John A. Steakely

Attorney John Steakley is a 1996 graduate of the University of Tennessee College of Law. He began his career as the Special Prosecutor for Drug Crimes for a multi-county, multi-agency drug task force in Tennessee, where he represented the State of Tennessee in thousands of felony and misdemeanor cases in a 5-county judicial district.

Cracking Bin Laden's Hard Drives

Few technological advances have been as successful at protecting information from government as the technology of encryption.  I think it is fair to say that the US Government will use everything in its power to defeat whatever types of security Osama Bin Laden used on his computers.  But even that may not be enough:

"If you're doing encryption on the drive properly, meaning you've done your research, looked at the solutions, you follow best practices, have a strong key, and don't have a weak passphrase, then it will probably never be decrypted. Because drive encryption done properly is extremely difficult, it ends up being a brute-force problem," said Hoglund.

In the attorney-client arena, I think it is imperative for an attorney to encrypt client information.  Encryption software like TrueCrypt is free and easy to use.  A computer with an encrypted hard drive stolen in a burglary of a lawyer's office is unlikely to reveal any client secrets to the burglar.  The client is protected, as is the attorney-client privilege.

If you have data on your computer that you don't want anyone else to see, encrypt it.  That's the best you can do.

UPDATE:  Elcomsoft claims they can "crack" encrypted drives, but they aren't really "cracking" them.  What they are doing is pulling the encryption key from the memory of a running computer.  When they can take a powered-down encrypted drive with a strong key and still crack it, I'll be impressed.  But not before.

I have also had conversations with cynical people who assume that every encryption program has some sort of secret "back door" that would allow any device encrypted with it to be decrypted by use of this secret back door.  The theory is plausible, but I am yet to see any evidence of it.  When the US government is having trouble forcing witnesses to decrypt their hard drives, that tells me the government doesn't have a back door. 

UPDATE:  TrueCrypt has fallen into disfavor since this blog post was published, although it still works for many functions.  Here are some alternatives to TrueCrypt:

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