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Why I (No Longer) Avoid BitLocker

You can use BitLocker safely, but it does require taking appropriate precautions.

BitLocker is a fine encryption program if used properly. The problem is that it's too easy for the average user to skip steps that could result in data loss.
Bitlocker Protected External Drive

BitLocker is Microsoft’s full-disk encryption technology. It’s available in Windows Pro, Enterprise, or Ultimate editions from Vista onwards.

I typically recommend avoiding it, for one simple reason: it’s too easy to encrypt yourself into a corner and lose access to your encrypted data.

I now use BitLocker for whole-drive encryption. Microsoft has made it harder to “encrypt yourself into a corner”. That doesn’t mean it can’t be done, though, so do follow the instructions in this article.

I’ll review the steps you need to take to use BitLocker safely.

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Using BitLocker safely

To encrypt your drive with BitLocker safely, right-click the drive in Windows File Explorer and click on Turn on BitLocker. Save the recovery key as part of the setup process. Do not skip this step, or you may lose access to your data. Then back up your data as well.

Encrypting your drive with BitLocker

The process of encrypting your drive with BitLocker is fairly straightforward. Right-click the drive in Windows File Explorer and click on Turn on BitLocker.

Turn on Bitlocker context menu item.
Turn on BitLocker context menu item. (Screenshot:

BitLocker will first check to ensure that your system supports BitLocker, and having done so, will proceed to encrypt your drive.

The next step is the most important.

Save the recovery key

As part of the setup process, you will be given the option of backing up the recovery key for your encrypted drive.

Backing up the Bitlocker recovery key.
Backing up the BitLocker recovery key. (Screenshot:

Do not skip this step.

Skipping this step is what I refer to as “encrypting yourself into a corner”. If you lose this recovery key (or you don’t save it in the first place), you can lose everything on the drive.

Losing access to your encrypted drive

There are several ways you can lose access to all the data on your encrypted drive. The two most common are by losing your sign-in account or when system failure strikes.

Losing your sign-in account

Normally we think about simple things — like forgetting the log-in password — that result in losing access to an account.

However, one of the things we see in Windows from time to time is the “corrupt profile”. For various reasons, information associated with your account can become so damaged that you can’t sign in. The typical solution is to create a new account with a new profile to regain access to the machine.

The problem is, your new account is not the account that set up the encryption, and it doesn’t have access to the encrypted data.

Losing your sign-in account for any reason could be enough to lose access to your encrypted data.

System failures

On one hand, you might expect to lose data when a system fails. However, BitLocker encryption also invalidates one of the techniques to recover data from a hard drive salvaged from a damaged computer: connecting it to another computer.

Decryption is tied to the sign-in account that encrypted the data. That sign-in account simply doesn’t exist anywhere but on the machine that performed the encryption in the first place. Even if you re-create an account with the same ID and password, it’s a different account, and you still won’t be able to access the data on the encrypted drive  — unless you have the recovery key.

Using BitLocker safely

All that being said, BitLocker is pretty cool encryption technology, and people often want to use it. It’s not uncommon or even unreasonable for organizations to insist it be used to keep data secure.

There are two key elements to using BitLocker safely.

Back up

Backing up seems like a cure for just about anything, and this is yet another case.

An image backup of the encrypted drive will back up everything.1 But even if you just back up the data on your encrypted drive religiously — to the point where losing that drive completely and without warning would be an inconvenience, not a disaster — then you’re safe.

You could lose access to your encrypted data for any reason and simply restore it from backup. The catch, of course, is since your data is sensitive enough to be encrypted, you’ll want to take steps to ensure your backups are also secure. That may mean encrypting them separately or keeping them in a secure location.

Keep that recovery key

The recovery key created when you set up BitLocker is like a magic key that will recover access to the data from another log-in account or another machine. The catch is you need to have it — which means creating it in the first place and being able to find it when you need it. Since it is a magic key to your data, it needs to be kept safe and secure.

If you didn’t create the key when you enabled BitLocker (or BitLocker was enabled to begin with2), right-click on the drive, click on Manage Bitlocker, and click on Back up your recovery key.

Back up the key, back up the data, and you can use BitLocker safely.


How data gets lost

There are two things I can tell you from my experience running Ask Leo!:

  • Too many people don’t back up appropriately.
  • Too many people misplace important files.

The reason BitLocker scares me is that when you put those two things together, a lot of people lose access to important data on their BitLocker-encrypted drives.


While they’re not built-in like Bitlocker, alternative technologies like VeraCrypt and Cryptomator are less complex and more portable with no loss in data security.

Consider VeraCrypt: you encrypt it with a passphrase. That’s the only thing you need to remember, and you can choose any technique to do so. A VeraCrypt volume is completely portable and can be moved from machine to machine — even machines using different operating systems (including Mac and Linux). All you need is that passphrase.

The same is true for Cryptomator. In fact, I rely on Cryptomator to do both: I regularly copy encrypted data between several PCs and Macs and use it on both platforms.

Do this

Regardless of what technology you use, use it safely. That means saving or remembering the encryption key and backing up the data.

If you use BitLocker, make certain to create the recovery key and save it in a safe place.

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Footnotes & References

1: Though it’s important to understand whether an image backup of an encrypted drive will back up the data in encrypted or unencrypted form. I recommend the latter whenever possible.

2: I have been seeing new machines come with BitLocker enabled on the system drive. It’s worth checking. If you see “Manage BitLocker instead of “Turn on BitLocker”, then BitLocker has already been enabled for that drive. Back up the key right away.

29 comments on “Why I (No Longer) Avoid BitLocker”

  1. You can unlock and access data on a BitLocker encrypted drive by attaching it directly to another computer (example: SATA) or via an external USB adapter/enclosure; and providing “either” the correct password or choosing “I Forgot the password” and enter the recovery key. The encryption method is not tied to a particular user account. The loss of both the Password AND Recovery key will cause the data to become inaccessible. Microsoft will usually maintain a copy of the recovery key (but do not depend on it being available) if the encryption of the drive were performed while logged in to a Microsoft account as opposed to a Local account.

    The encrypting file system (EFS) requires the export/import of the security certificate. You WILL lose access to data without the proper certificate. This method is more complex to administer and probably should be avoided outside of a corporate domain environment.

    with bitlocker, if you back up the image, can you recover that image to an unencrypted drive, in even t of disaster, so that you can then re-encrypt the recovered image?

    I currently encrypt full drive with truecrypt, and do backups of images of the c: drive (I back up to truecrypted external drives), and if I need to recover, I can copy one of the backed up images to a clean drive, and then run recovery (I use Paragon Hard Disk Manager 2015), and I then have a working image on a new drive.

    I have NOT tried this with bitlocker, but would like to know if it works

    • What’s important here is that you backup the UNencrypted data. That can be restored wherever you want.

      If you backup the encrypted partition then you may not be able to restore it anywhere other than on the same machine. I’m not 100% on this, but it scares me enough that I would not do it.

  3. I have three machines running Windows 7 Ultimate SP1 that are too old to have a TPM (Trusted Platform Module) chip in them so BitLocker doesn’t work on any of them. I use TrueCrypt instead to do whole-drive encryption. Since TrueCrypt uses pre-boot authentication in order to start the computer, a thief would be stealing a really fancy paper weight with no way to start the machine without entering the 25+ character passphrase. Anybody who tries to view the data on the drive by plugging it into another computer would see nothing as everything is encrypted.

    While TrueCrypt is no longer supported by the developers, I feel confident using it, at least until an actual vulnerability is discovered.

  4. There a published cases of Governments not being able to break into TrueCrypt. I would like to know if there are any reports of Governments not being able to break into a criminals Bit Locker encrypted computer.
    Paranoia aside, Bit Locker probably makes life easier and more accountable in a properly manged corporate IT environment.

  5. The company I work for has an IT policy including that BitLocker is being used on all company laptops. This poses one particular problem: if an employee has to travel for business to China that emplyee needs to copy all his data on a laptop without BitLocker. The Chinese government does not allow bringing in laptops with such encryption. For those trips are some laptops held separately which can then temporarily be used.

  6. Not particularly enamoured by this article. Bit Locker is probably the best software-based encryption option out there. It performs considerably better than any other software encryption, is easy to use and administer and of course if you lose the recovery key you can’t get access, that’s the point!

    “BitLocker encryption also invalidates one of the techniques to recover data from a hard drive salvaged from a damaged computer: connecting it to another computer.” – that’s simply not true, you can connect it to any other machine with BitLocker installed and enter the recovery key to gain access.

    “The reason BitLocker scares me is that when you put those two things together, a lot of people lose access to important data on their BitLocker-encrypted drives.” – In the most common use of BitLocker, businesses with an Active Directory Domain, the key is automatically backed-up to AD so you don’t even have to worry about it. Not only that but you can create a single private key which decrypts all machines. On an individual basis, the above may be a concern, yeah but quite frankly that’s your fault for losing it, what’s the point if someone else can easily bypass encryption?

  7. Is it safe to bitlocker on computer. what if I lost the key and not able to access my user account either.
    is it possible to open the encrypted file on other device also. whether my onedrive, googledrive and other online cloud folders will also get encrypted with this bitlocker.
    if everything will be encrypted whether I will be able to open those folder on my handheld gadget also. or I need to put bitlocker everywhere on all gadget.

  8. There are several items in this list that are untrue…

    “Decryption is tied to the log-in account that encrypted the data. That log-in account simply doesn’t exist anywhere but on the machine that performed the encryption in the first place. Even if you re-create an account with the same ID and password, it’s a different account, and will not work to access the data on the encrypted drive.”

    Absolutely and simply not true. The whole drive is encrypted. It doesn’t matter which user you’re using… the only case where this is true is if you’re silly enough to store your encryption keys online with Microsoft.

    “On one hand you’d say, sure, when a system fails, you expect to lose data. However, BitLocker encryption also invalidates one of the techniques to recover data from a hard drive salvaged from a damaged computer: connecting it to another computer.”

    Again not true. All you need is the recovery key and you can use the drive with any machine.

    Bitlocker does NOT protect your machine if it is powered on. It is intended to protect you from having your machine stolen or your hard drive physically removed.

  9. I have a general question about bitlocker. We use to use another encryption software for out laptops, and with that software, you could take the hard drive out of the laptop, and put it into another laptop of the exact same type and boot the machine. I have also noticed that you can do this with bitlocker (although, last time we tried to do this, it did not work).

    Isn’t being able to do this type of thing rendering drive encryption useless? if you can steal someone’s hard drive (not the entire computer, just the hard drive), or grab an image of it and boot it in an identical pc, make drive encryption useless?

  10. I bought a new computer when my old and dear XP died. It came with Win 8.1 which was ok after I played around with it. Then the DREADED update to Win 10. Ok. no problem -except there is NO Bitlocker on my computer anywhere, any shape or form. I dunno why. I’ve been up. down, back and forth, all through the nooks and crannies searching the whole damned computer and there is no Bitlocker anywhere. I can’t find anywhere I can download it. Micro$soft doesn’t have a download, it’s supposed to be preinstalled, I guess. If there’s a download for Bitlocker, tell me where.
    Drat and durn . I can exist without it as I have a secure system (I hope) and have my OS and system stuff in a seperate physical drive aside from my apps.

  11. Please, does anyone know how to image backup TrueCrypt encrypted disks . Macrium won’t let me do that. I use Windows 7 Ultimate. Also Macrium support say they Macrium Reflect only supports BitLocker.

    Even though my System Drive C: is encrypted, it is imaged fine, but my Data Drives D: and E: are encrypted but are not recognized by Macrium.

    I’ll switch to BitLocker if I have to, in order to make image backups. But TrueCrypt works great still.

  12. Over the past week I’ve dealt with “it’s too easy encrypt yourself into a corner and lose access to your encrypted data.” I’ve been researching this and found that other people are having this same problem.

    My laptop was having boot-up problems and every proposed solution lead me to a screen that asked for a Bitlocker recovery key. I’d never heard of Bitlocker before. More than a week later I decided to just go back to the factory settings. NOPE! Can’t even do that without the Bitlocker recovery key.

    Now the laptop is at Best Buy undergoing a clean install for $100.

    • I have noted that some new laptops (including my own) are coming with Bitlocker enabled by default. While that’s generally a good thing, it should really REALLY be made obvious, and saving a key should be part of the initial setup process. Sadly it is not.

  13. Leo, I’m in trouble. I recently turned on my laptop to see the BitLocker screen. I knew nothing about what The Bit was. But I was able to get the recovery key by logging into MS. When I couldn’t get anywhere with the key of a thousand digits, I called Dell. After almost two hours of their tech trying to help me and me inserting all those numbers in time and time again, the tech came to the conclusion that Windows 10 kept crashing and that pc would have to be reset. I said I would have to get data backed up by Geek Squad on an external hard drive I had. However, Geek weren’t allowed to do it. But recommended place where I could have it done with hard drive being placed in a third party pc and then backed up.
    Needless to say, this old babe here almost went to heaven when told that my hard drive was locked by The Bit and could not be unlocked.
    Now Dell who keeps in touch with me, cuz they know I’m old called me right after getting this bad news. So, they ready for a reset. I can’t bear it. Is there anyway out that you can suggest? If so, please help me. TIA

    • Unfortunately no. This is the purpose of whole-disk encryption: to keep people out if they don’t have the encryption key. Unfortunately, as you’ve seen, some people who should have access can’t.

      One lesson to take away from this: start backing up. If you lose anything simply because you can’t access the hard drive, then you weren’t backing up.

  14. VERY well said, Leo! I do not use Bitlocker for the reasons you describe, plus one more. Disc errors. With an unencrypted (or Veracrypted) disc, you can have disc errors that are fixed by CHKDSK and you can retrieve data or repair the drive. With Bitlocker, you can kiss your sweet data “adios”, as one small sector going bad will render it unencryptable and inaccessible. I do not use Bitlocker, and never will.

  15. I have been using Bitlocker for a long time now. The most important thing to remember about using it is to backup the recovery keys. Currently I have the keys backed up to my Microsoft account, a flash drive, and printed copies kept in a safe.
    In over ten years of using Bitlocker, I’ve not had any issues caused by Bitlocker. I use Macrium Reflect to backup my computers and Reflect works with Bitlocker enabled. Remember to check the box for Add Bitlocker Support under Advanced Options when creating Macrium rescue media.
    I have performed maintenance on hard drives, such as running Chkdsk, on Bitlocker-encrypted drives without issue. There are times when either Windows or Macrium will ask to suspend Bitlocker protection, which then will be re-enabled after a restart of the computer.
    And I also am using Cryptomator for files stored on OneDrive. I keep unencrypted copies of those files on separate external hard drives just in case.

  16. Do not use Bitlocker unless you have really sensitive info. And if you buy a new computer, turn it off, unless you really, really need it. So far twice I had to save somebody’s data from machines that had issues and they didn’t even know they had Bitlocker enable. It was a real pain tracking down their key and could have caused a huge loss.

  17. I’m in the same camp as Mark H. Using Bitlocker for full-drive encryption on laptop and external drive (starts on bootup); Macrium (paid version) for backups to an external drive and Cryptomator for encrypting my cloud content.

    Feel good that if machine and ext drive were ever stolen, they wouldn’t get one step into either without the 9 digit PIN I use.

  18. Back in my XP days, I used TrueCrypt. It was okay at the time. A few years ago I decided to look into VeraCrypt for use on my Windows 10 Pro. I don’t know why but I decided not to use VeraCrypt. Instead, I opted to use Bitlocker but I did not want to encrypt my whole drive. Before turning on Bitlocker, I partitioned one of my HD’s. I only use Bitlocker on that new partition (Drive “X”). That is where I save all my sensitive data. I also save that data on a Thumbdrive… just in case. I also created two batch files on my un-encrypted drive. One file un-locks Drive “X” (after manually typing a password), and the other batch file to re-lock Drive “X”.

    • To be clear, as that article mentions:

      The technique also relies on having a Trusted Platform Module (TPM) separate from the CPU. In many cases, the two will be combined, in which case the technique shown cannot be used.

      So it’s only a subset of Bitlocker installations, and a subset of theft/compromise situations.

      I also expect it’ll be something soon fixed.


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