|A component of Microsoft Windows|
BitLocker option during Windows To Go creation
|Other names||Device Encryption|
|Type||Disk encryption software|
|Included with||Windows Vista and later|
|Encrypting File System|
BitLocker (formerly BitLocker Drive Encryption) is a full disk encryption feature included with the Ultimate and Enterprise editions of Windows Vista and Windows 7, the Pro and Enterprise editions of Windows 8 and Windows 8.1, and Windows Server 2008 and later. It is designed to protect data by providing encryption for entire volumes. By default it uses the AES encryption algorithm in cipher block chaining (CBC) mode with a 128-bit or 256-bit key, combined with the Elephant diffuser for additional disk encryption-specific security not provided by AES. CBC is not used over the whole disk, only for each individual disk sector.
BitLocker is available in the Enterprise and Ultimate editions of Windows Vista and Windows 7. It is also available in the Pro and Enterprise editions of Windows 8 and 8.1. Initially, the graphical BitLocker interface in Windows Vista could only encrypt the operating system volume; encrypting other volumes could be achieved through an included command-line tool. Starting with Windows Vista with Service Pack 1 and Windows Server 2008, volumes other than the operating system volume could be encrypted using the graphical tool.
The latest version of BitLocker, first included in Windows 7 and Windows Server 2008 R2, adds the ability to encrypt removable drives. On Windows XP or Windows Vista, read-only access to these drives can be achieved through a program called BitLocker To Go Reader, if FAT16, FAT32 or exFAT filesystems are used.
Windows Mobile 6.5, Windows RT and core edition of Windows 8.1 include device encryption, a feature-limited version of BitLocker that encrypts the whole system. Logging in with a Microsoft account with administrative privileges automatically begins the encryption process. The recovery key is stored to either the Microsoft account or Active Directory, allowing it to be retrieved from any computer. While device encryption is offered on all versions of 8.1, unlike BitLocker, device encryption requires that the device meet the InstantGo (formerly Connected Standby) specifications, which requires solid state drives, non-removable RAM (to protect against cold boot attacks) and a Trusted Platform Module (TPM) 2.0 chip.
There are three authentication mechanisms that can be used as building blocks to implement BitLocker encryption:
- Transparent operation mode: This mode utilizes the capabilities of Trusted Platform Module (TPM) 1.2 hardware to provide for a transparent user experience—the user powers up and logs into Windows as normal. The key used for disk encryption is sealed (encrypted) by the TPM chip and will only be released to the OS loader code if the early boot files appear to be unmodified. The pre-OS components of BitLocker achieve this by implementing a Static Root of Trust Measurement—a methodology specified by the Trusted Computing Group (TCG). This mode is vulnerable to a cold boot attack, as it allows a powered-down machine to be booted by an attacker.
- User authentication mode: This mode requires that the user provide some authentication to the pre-boot environment in the form of a pre-boot PIN.
- USB Key Mode: The user must insert a USB device that contains a startup key into the computer to be able to boot the protected OS. Note that this mode requires that the BIOS on the protected machine supports the reading of USB devices in the pre-OS environment. The USB key may be provided by a CCID device for reading a cryptographic smartcard. Using CCID provides additional benefits beyond just storing the key file on an external USB thumb drive, because the CCID protocol hides the private key using a cryptographic processor embedded in the smartcard, thus preventing the key file from being stolen on a compromised system by simply copying the key file from the USB drive and stealing it.
BitLocker is a logical volume encryption system. A volume may or may not be an entire hard disk drive, or it can span one or more physical drives. Also, when enabled, TPM and BitLocker can ensure the integrity of the trusted boot path (e.g. BIOS, boot sector, etc.), in order to prevent most offline physical attacks, boot sector malware, etc.
In order for BitLocker to operate, at least two NTFS-formatted volumes are required: one for the operating system (usually C:) and another with a minimum size of 100 MB from which the operating system boots. BitLocker requires the boot volume to remain unencrypted—on Windows Vista this volume must be assigned a drive letter, while on Windows 7 that is not required. Unlike previous versions of Windows, Vista's "diskpart" command-line tool includes the ability to shrink the size of an NTFS volume so that the system volume for BitLocker may be created from already allocated space. A tool called the BitLocker Drive Preparation Tool is also available from Microsoft that allows an existing volume on Windows Vista to be shrunk to make room for a new boot volume and for the necessary bootstrapping files to be transferred to it; Windows 7 creates the secondary boot volume by default, even if BitLocker is not used initially.
Once an alternate boot partition has been created, the TPM module needs to be initialized (assuming that this feature is being used), after which the required disk encryption key protection mechanisms such as TPM, PIN or USB key are configured. The volume is then encrypted as a background task, something that may take a considerable amount of time with a large disk as every logical sector is read, encrypted and rewritten back to disk. The keys are only protected after the whole volume has been encrypted, when the volume is considered secure. BitLocker uses a low-level device driver to encrypt and decrypt all file operations, making interaction with the encrypted volume transparent to applications running on the platform.
The Microsoft Encrypting File System (EFS) may be used in conjunction with BitLocker to provide protection once the operating system kernel is running. Protection of the files from processes and users within the operating system can only be performed using encryption software that operates within Windows, such as EFS. BitLocker and EFS, therefore, offer protection against different classes of attacks.
In Active Directory environments, BitLocker supports optional key escrow to Active Directory, although a schema update may be required for this to work (i.e. if the Active Directory Services are hosted on a Windows version previous to Windows Server 2008).
BitLocker and other full disk encryption systems can be attacked by a rogue bootmanager. Once the malicious bootloader captures the secret, it can decrypt the Volume Master Key (VMK), which would then allow access to decrypt or modify any information on an encrypted hard disk. By configuring a TPM to protect the trusted boot pathway, including the BIOS and boot sector, BitLocker can mitigate this threat. (Note that some non-malicious changes to the boot path may cause a PCR check to fail, and thereby generate a false warning.)
According to Microsoft sources, BitLocker does not contain an intentionally built-in backdoor; without a backdoor there is no way for law enforcement to have a guaranteed passage to the data on the user's drives that is provided by Microsoft. The lack of any backdoor has been a concern to the UK Home Office, which tried entering into talks with Microsoft to get one introduced, although Microsoft developer Niels Ferguson and other Microsoft spokesmen state that they will not grant the wish to have one added. Microsoft engineers have said that FBI agents also put pressure on them in numerous meetings in order to add a backdoor, although no formal, written request was ever made; Microsoft engineers eventually suggested to the FBI that agents should look for the hard-copy of the key that the BitLocker program suggests its users to make. Although the AES encryption algorithm used in BitLocker is in the public domain, its implementation in BitLocker, as well as other components of the software, are proprietary; however, the code is available for scrutiny by Microsoft partners and enterprises, subject to a non-disclosure agreement.
The "Transparent operation mode" and "User authentication mode" of BitLocker use TPM hardware to detect if there are unauthorized changes to the pre-boot environment, including the BIOS and MBR. If any unauthorized changes are detected, BitLocker requests a recovery key on a USB device. This cryptographic secret is used to decrypt the Volume Master Key (VMK) and allow the bootup process to continue.
Nevertheless, in February 2008, a group of security researchers published details of a so-called "cold boot attack" that allows full disk encryption systems such as BitLocker to be compromised by booting the machine off removable media, such as a USB drive, into another operating system, then dumping the contents of pre-boot memory. The attack relies on the fact that DRAM retains information for up to several minutes (or even longer if cooled) after power has been removed. Use of a TPM alone does not offer any protection, as the keys are held in memory while Windows is running, although two-factor authentication, i.e. using TPM together with a PIN, offers better protection for machines that are not powered on when physical access to them is obtained. Similar full disk encryption mechanisms of other vendors and other operating systems, including Linux and Mac OS X, are vulnerable to the same attack. The authors recommend that computers be powered down when not in physical control of the owner (rather than be left in a "sleep" state) and that the encryption software be configured to require a password to boot the machine.
Once a BitLocker-protected machine is running, its keys are stored in memory where they may be susceptible to attack by a process that is able to access physical memory, for example, through a 1394 or Thunderbolt DMA channel. Any cryptographic material in memory is at risk from this attack, which therefore is not specific to BitLocker.
Starting with Windows 8 and Windows Server 2012 Microsoft removed the Elephant Diffuser from the BitLocker scheme for no declared reason. Dan Rosendorf's research shows that removing the Elephant Diffuser had an "undeniably negative impact" on the security of BitLocker encryption against a targeted attack.
- Features new to Windows Vista
- List of Microsoft Windows components
- Vista IO technologies
- Next-Generation Secure Computing Base
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- BitLocker Drive Encryption Technical Overview
- Download BitLocker Drive Preparation Tool
- Windows Hardware Developer Central BitLocker Hub Page
- System Integrity Team Blog
- Cobynsoft's AD Bitlocker Password Audit for Windows
- Read BitLocker encrypted partition under Linux or Mac OS X
- Attacking the BitLocker Boot Process
- Read a BitLocker-encrypted partition on Linux: Dislocker
- Enable BitLocker Drive Encryption on Windows 10 and Windows Server 2012 R2