Windows Advisor

Securing Data on the Move with Cryptainer

Carry your files with you, but make sure they're also encrypted and safe with this nifty tool from Cypherix.

While looking for some encryption software that was relatively portable, highly secure and allowed encryption of data on USB flash drives and CD/DVD ROMs, I recently stumbled upon Cryptainer software from Cypherix. Cypherix products let you create multiple password-protected, encrypted virtual drives known as vaults. You can load and unload the vaults with your password. The virtual drive shows up as a drive letter in Windows Explorer and can be used as just another drive attached to your computer. You have the freedom to drag and drop files in the encrypted volumes and even install programs on the encrypted drives, just as you do on a hard drive.

Cryptainer Overview
Cypherix offers several versions of Cryptainer, with each one offering a different size vault. For example, Cryptainer PE offers 25GB vaults -- big enough to copy the entire contents of a DVD in a secure vault. Depending on the size of your hard disk, you can have as many vaults as you want. In the case of Cryptainer PE, each vault is limited to a maximum size of 25GB.

Cryptainer offers 448-bit encryption. Unlike Microsoft's Encrypting File System (EFS), which decrypts files that are copied to a non-NTFS partition such as FAT, FAT32 or CDFS, Cryptainer files remain encrypted no matter which file system you use.

In addition to these products, the company offers a free version called Cryptainer LE, which lets you create an unlimited number of 25MB vaults. The level of encryption in Cryptainer LE (128-bit) is lower than the other paid versions that offer up to 448-bit Blowfish encryption. You might want to test this product out first -- if it meets your requirements, you might even try another product that allows larger size vaults and higher encryption level. To view the versions and their up-to-date pricing, go to the Cypherix Web site.

According to Cypherix, Cryptainer SE meets the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA) privacy and security criteria. This product is supported on Windows 95/98/Me/2000/XP/2003 server.

Installation
When you install Cryptainer SE, you install the Administrative Module on one computer, which allows you to look at the Cryptainer logs. The setup also creates a Client Install Set in the ClientInstall folder. This set is used to install Cryptainer on other computers on the network. The instructions are pretty clear on this entire process (see Fig. 1). While Cryptainer SE supports Blowfish 448 and AES 256-bit encryption algorithms, the Administrative Module supports RSA 2048-bit algorithm.

Installing Crypt
Figure 1: Installing Cryptainer SE Administrative Module.

SecureIT is a file encryption package that offers both AES 256 and Blowfish 448 encryption. It also lets you encrypt files that you can send as an e-mail attachment to anyone. Depending on how you encrypt the file, the recipient can either use the password you provide to decrypt it or use the free Decrypt IT software from Cypherix. The first method doesn't require the recipient to install any software on a computer. SecureIT also offers a built-in file shredder that removes all traces of data so files cannot be "undeleted" or recovered by other utilities.

During my tests, I was able to use fast compression in SecureIT and encrypt a 2.75GB file in only 5 minutes and 45 seconds. The encrypted file was 1.51GB in size. These results were impressive.

The Free Upgrade Process
When you purchase Cryptainer, you get free upgrades for two years regardless of which product you purchase. After two years you can continue to use the product. If some day you decide to purchase the next higher version, you only pay the difference in price between the two.

The process for upgrading the software is relatively simple. You go to Cypherix's Web site and download the latest version. After you've installed the new version, you provide the original registration key, which upgrades your software to the newer version. The Support link on its Web site has clear instructions on how this process works.

Creating an Encrypted Volume on a USB Drive
To create an encrypted volume on a removable drive, such as a USB drive, you choose the option Install Cryptainer Mobile from the Tools menu. You point to a folder on a USB drive where you want to install Cryptainer and then start the program from that folder to configure it just like you will on a hard drive. Needless to say, depending on the size of the volume, formatting on a USB drive can literally take hours. I prefer to format my USB drives with NTFS so I select the option Do not format this Cryptainer Volume. Allow me to format it myself.

Once the encrypted volume has been created, you can drag and drop files in that volume. This portable USB drive can be taken to any computer and you can transfer files back and forth to its encrypted vault, even if the computer doesn't have a copy of Cryptainer installed because you will be running the copy from the USB drive. You will simply load and unload the virtual drives on USB with your password. The ease and convenience of encrypting confidential files on a USB drive is a valuable option and was a factor in my decision to purchase the software. I used Cryptainer PE version 6.0.2 for testing, which was only 2.65MB.

Sending Encrypted E-Mail Attachments
Using Cryptainer software, you can send encrypted e-mail attachments to other people who will be able to open the confidential files simply by providing a password. There are a couple of ways to send encrypted attachments (see Fig. 2). You can either create an Encrypted Self-Extractor (.EXE) file or simply encrypt the file itself.

Attachments
Figure 2: Sending encrypted e-mail attachments.

The people on the receiving end do not need a copy of Cryptainer installed on their computer. Sometimes it is easy to get confused when talking about e-mail and encryption in the same sentence, so I want to make sure that I have made a clear distinction here. Cryptainer software does not encrypt e-mails; it creates self-extracting encrypted files that can then be sent to anyone as an e-mail attachment in an e-mail program of your choice. The idea is that you will put confidential content in an encrypted file (rather than directly in an e-mail) and then send the attachment. This is one of the two options.

The second method is to simply encrypt the file. This option is recommend by Cypherix because it reduces the file size and avoids the risk of inadvertently transmitting viruses with an executable file. This method requires the recipient to use DeCypherIT software to decrypt the file. DeCypherIT can be downloaded from Cypherix at no charge.

Customer Support
Although I have nothing but praise for its products, I had some concerns about Cypherix's tech support since the company is located outside United States (in India) and the language barrier plus the time it takes to communicate via e-mails could be a problem. Some customers have reported that it takes a long time before they get a response from tech support. However, the company seems to try its best to provide a good service.

My experience with the company’s tech support was positive. I sent them a message concerning a hyperlink that was for downloading Cryptainer PE but was linked to Cryptainer LE and wondered how quickly they would respond. They replied within a few hours. In subsequent e-mails on other topics, I found the response time to be swift and satisfactory.

My Recommendation: 5 Stars
The Cryptainer products are very easy to use, offer a high level of encryption and are fairly inexpensive. The fact that the users do not have to learn the ins and outs of data encryption and don't have to worry about encrypting individual folders or files on a volume makes protecting data not only easier but also safer.

The flexibility of encrypting data on any 32-bit Windows platform and the use of Blowfish 448-bit and AES 256-bit encryption is yet another bonus. One of the main reasons that I was interested in the product was its ability to encrypt content on USB drives and the ease of sending encrypted e-mail attachments to any recipient regardless of which platform or e-mail client they are using.

Cryptainer has several advantages over EFS and is offered in eight different languages. Even the corporate version, Cryptainer SE, requires only 4MB of hard disk space.

While there are hundreds of freeware, shareware and third-party encryption solutions out there, each with its own pros and cons, I found the Cryptainer products to be incredibly simple, effective, fast and overall very impressive. On a scale of 1 to 5 stars, Cryptainer is one product that definitely deserves 5 stars.

About the Author

Zubair Alexander, MCSE, MCT, MCSA and Microsoft MVP is the founder of SeattlePro Enterprises, an IT training and consulting business. His experience covers a wide range of spectrum: trainer, consultant, systems administrator, security architect, network engineer, author, technical editor, college instructor and public speaker. Zubair holds more than 25 technical certifications and Bachelor of Science degrees in Aeronautics & Astronautics Engineering, Mathematics and Computer Information Systems. His Web site, www.techgalaxy.net, is dedicated to technical resources for IT professionals. Zubair may be reached at alexander@techgalaxy.net.

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