NTFS - Features - Encrypting File System (EFS)

Encrypting File System (EFS)

EFS provides strong and user-transparent encryption of any file or folder on an NTFS volume. EFS works in conjunction with the EFS service, Microsoft's CryptoAPI and the EFS File System Run-Time Library (FSRTL). EFS works by encrypting a file with a bulk symmetric key (also known as the File Encryption Key, or FEK), which is used because it takes a relatively small amount of time to encrypt and decrypt large amounts of data than if an asymmetric key cipher is used. The symmetric key that is used to encrypt the file is then encrypted with a public key that is associated with the user who encrypted the file, and this encrypted data is stored in an alternate data stream of the encrypted file. To decrypt the file, the file system uses the private key of the user to decrypt the symmetric key that is stored in the file header. It then uses the symmetric key to decrypt the file. Because this is done at the file system level, it is transparent to the user. Also, in case of a user losing access to their key, support for additional decryption keys has been built in to the EFS system, so that a recovery agent can still access the files if needed. NTFS-provided encryption and NTFS-provided compression are mutually exclusive; however, NTFS can be used for one and a third-party tool for the other.

The support of EFS is not available in Basic, Home and MediaCenter versions of Windows, and must be activated after installation of Professional, Ultimate and Server versions of Windows or by using enterprise deployment tools within Windows domains.

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