h1

How I Turned an Old Computer Into a Mobile Digital Vault

24/04/2013

For a couple of years I’ve had an older HP AMD64 sitting around that the motherboard went out on, and I’ve been looking for a use for the parts. More specifically, I’ve been looking for a way to use the 500GB SATA HD that’s inside. It seemed like an awful lot of space to waste.

Stripped Insides of the old computer

I just took the HD, RAM and CPU.

I posted a while back on my Twitter (or possibly LinkedIn, it’s been a while) a link to LifeHacker’s “Five Best Drive Enclosures” and slowly the idea has been making its way up my project list.

But I wanted to one-up the project. I didn’t just want a portable hard drive, I wanted a device that I could move around, somewhat, and still be secured in the event that it was stolen. Basically I wanted a mobile digital vault.

First step was to get the drive out of the computer and into something that was useful. Referring back to the LifeHacker article before I chose the Rosewill RX-358 which met all of my criteria: It had to be cooled (fan), support larger drives (500GB) and be ESATA compatible.

HD just before putting top on

It slides right in to the connectors on the back and fits like it came from the factory that way. Kudos to Rosewill.

I dropped the old SATA drive into it, which fit snugly into the case. Once you put the Rosewill back together, it actually feels like it was factory built to be a mobile drive. It feels solid and secure.

I backed up any data on it I wanted, which wasn’t much, and then formatted the drive. I chose NTFS for the drive format type because both Windows and Linux, the two OSes I use most, can both read it. I didn’t plan to turn all 500GB into an digital vault, since I don’t have that many private documents, but you can certainly do that with the software.

Now that I had a newly-formatted 500GB drive I used TrueCrypt to create the virtual drive on it. This software runs on Windows, Mac and Linux, so a drive created in one is readable on any device that has TrueCrypt installed. This is of course assuming that it’s in a filesystem that the OS can read.

TrueCrypt Main Screen

The TrueCrypt Main Screen before I hit the “Mount” button. You can have several encrypted virtual drives running at once.

I tried initially to create a 50GB drive (more than enough for me) in NTFS through Windows, but for some reason Windows wasn’t able to write past about 7GB before shutting down. I tried again in Linux and it had no problem creating the entire 50GB partition and encrypting it with my key.

When I did this, however, NTFS was not an option and I chose EXT4 (Linux filesystem) instead. This meant that while I was able to mount it in Windows, I wouldn’t be able to read the virtual drive without some extra work. This was fine for me, as I use Linux primarily. If you are trying this on your own, keep this in mind.

After the new drive was created, formatted and mounted (with password required)*, I put a copy of a faux folder called “Important Documents” into it with a few files and dismounted. The dismounted virtual drive was an unintelligible mess with no indication of what it was supposed to be, which is exactly what you want.

My "Important" documents

My “Important” Documents encrypted and decrypted fine. Ubuntu acts like it’s just another drive, but in Linux it isn’t in fstab so it won’t show up in your Unity dock.

The device mounted again, after rebooting on the machine it was created on and on another system entirely, showing me my documents in good condition. I was able to mount it on Windows as well, though as mentioned I was not able to read the files from it. I tried a program that was built to read mounted EXT2/3/4 drives, but it didn’t seem to pick up my encrypted drive. There are other methods, such as installing a driver to read the other filesystems, but since this was not a high priority for me I did not do it. Perhaps I will try those options later. I’ll post an update on this blog post if I get anything to work (or not!).

So, there you have it. I now have a 500GB mobile drive with a 50GB digital vault. I would recommend also putting a copy of Truecrypt on your un-encrypted portion so you can install it if need be. If not that, then you can do as I have and sync the installer to your Dropbox. My method, of course, assumes that you’ll have internet access. I wouldn’t recommend encrypting the entire drive for this reason as well, especially if you have a large one. Truecrypt is very smooth, but you don’t want to have to do that every time you get on your drive to move some pictures or something.

Rosewill Running

The Rosewill attached via the ESATA port. The blue lights are factory standard.

Any way you go about it, this is a good way to securely move your data around. If the unthinkable happens, you’ll know that you don’t have anything to worry about… other than getting a new mobile drive.

*Note: Just to give you an idea of the power of the encryption technology in use, with AES encryption it would take a trillion computers doing a billion brute force attacks (password guesses) a second, two billion years to break into your data. Fort Knox wishes it was this secure.

-CJ Julius

Advertisements

7 comments

  1. […] Technology Of All Kinds « How I Turned an Old Computer Into a Mobile Digital Vault […]


  2. […] and video types, ignoring things like PDFs or EXEs. Then I pointed to another external drive (from a previous project) and told it to drop all the files that it found in that folder and arrange them by type. The […]


  3. […] ago, I had put together a project to turn a few eSATA drives that I had lying around into a few mobile digital vaults. This was a complete success, and gave me a bunch more room to do future projects. However, it did […]


  4. […] a hundred more things you can do to make yourself even more secure, from building Truecrypt volumes or encrypting your whole drive/home directory. However, these ones listed above are all very easy […]


  5. […] and video types, ignoring things like PDFs or EXEs. Then I pointed to another external drive (from a previous project) and told it to drop all the files that it found in that folder and arrange them by type. The […]


  6. […] ago, I had put together a project to turn a few eSATA drives that I had lying around into a few mobile digital vaults. This was a complete success, and gave me a bunch more room to do future projects. However, it did […]


  7. […] a hundred more things you can do to make yourself even more secure, from building Truecrypt volumes or encrypting your whole drive/home directory. However, these ones listed above are all very easy […]



Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: