Neil MacDonald

A member of the Gartner Blog Network

Neil MacDonald
VP & Gartner Fellow
15 years at Gartner
25 years IT industry

Neil MacDonald is a vice president, distinguished analyst and Gartner Fellow in Gartner Research. Mr. MacDonald is a member of Gartner's information security and privacy research team, focusing on operating system and application-level security strategies. Specific research areas include Windows security…Read Full Bio

Coverage Areas:

Full Drive Encryption is not just for Laptops

by Neil MacDonald  |  August 22, 2011  |  3 Comments

I’ve had two discussions with clients today already on the role of full drive encryption ( FDE technologies such as Microsoft’s BitLocker, McAfee Total Protection, Sophos/Utimaco, Symantec PGP, Check Point, Trend/Mobile Armor etc) for fixed desktops.

Full drive encryption should be considered mandatory for laptops and most organizations have implemented this – either with Windows 7 and BitLocker, by adding encryption into their endpoint protection platform contract or by purchasing a point solution.

However, there are several use cases where the use of FDE makes sense for fixed desktops:

1) For areas where physical security is lacking and there is a risk that the hard drive and/or physical machine may be stolen

2) For defense in depth as machines are retired to ensure that data is wiped completely. By ensuring that the key is destroyed, access to the data is impossible. Without the keys, they don’t have your data. This would supplement (and potentially replace) any manual wiping that is performed as machines are returned/retired/recycled/destroyed.

3) For protection of images in transit being shipped to remote locations – for example to remote offices.

With advances in hardware processing making the overhead of FDE nearly negligible and with the significant downward pricing pressure in the market (in the case of BitLocker. “free” if you are purchasing Software Assurance on the Windows OS), FDE may make sense for many of your fixed desktops as well.


Category: Beyond Anti-Virus Endpoint Protection Platform Information Security Windows 7     Tags: , , , ,

3 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Andre Gironda   August 22, 2011 at 12:24 pm

    I don’t understand why companies bother with the operational nightmarish cost of application-based FDE.

    Just use SEDs. It’s hardware. You’re done!

  • 2 Aidan Herbert   August 22, 2011 at 1:29 pm

    I don’t understand why computer vendors don’t make Self encrypting drives (SEDs) standard.

    Just make it easy for companies to acquire machines with SEDs.

  • 3 Neil MacDonald   August 23, 2011 at 7:45 am


    Agreed with this caveat: It’s all about key provisioning and key management. SEDs make encryption easy, but we must provision and manage the keys in a way that scales to enterprise needs across heterogeneous devices (including multiple Windows devices which may use SEDs from different manufacturers). Encryption as a standalone function is a commodity. Off-device enterprise-class key management is the key (bad pun!).

    The best encryption management solutions will handle key management and provisioning across multiple SEDs, BitLocker as well as the vendor’s native FDE solution. My colleague John Girard publishes a Magic Quadrant in this area: