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Securing and Sharing Your Data : Securing Your Files

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3/26/2011 2:59:08 PM
Disk drives and devices with removable storage are formatted with a filesystem. The filesystem allows you to create and manage files. The format of the disk that you are working with determines the file security options that are available. You can format disks by using either File Allocation Table (FAT) or NT File System (NTFS). As discussed in the following sections, FAT and NTFS are a bit different in the way they work.

1. FAT Versus NTFS

Both FAT and NTFS come in several different variations, and in some cases, the type of device you are working with determines which variation is used. With FAT, the number of bits used with the allocation table determines the variant you are working with and the maximum volume size. You’ll find that USB flash devices and MP3 players with 4 GB or less of storage are usually formatted with the 16-bit version of FAT. FAT16, also known simply as FAT, defines its file allocation tables using 16 bits. FAT16 is used because it is the most efficient version of FAT for volume sizes of up to 4 GB.

If you use devices with removable storage that have storage larger than 4 GB, such as a removable hard disk, the device will in most cases use the 32-bit version of FAT, known as FAT32. FAT32 defines its file allocation tables using 32 bits, which allows you to have volumes larger than 32 GB. Devices with removable storage use FAT because it has no security controls, allowing you to access your data on multiple computers simply by connecting your device to those computers.

On the other hand, NTFS allows you to control access to files and folders by assigning permissions. At home, your computer will typically have file access permissions only for accounts configured on the local computer. At the office, your computer will typically have file access permissions for accounts configured on the local computer as well as accounts configured for your network. Although NTFS supports just about any volume size you’ll want to work with, you can’t necessarily move devices formatted with NTFS from one computer to another and gain access to all the data on these devices. You may not be able to do this because NTFS access permissions are set using accounts that are specific to a single computer, to a network, or to both.

2. File Attributes

All files and folders, whether on FAT- or NTFS-formatted disks, can be marked with attributes that give you limited control over how a file or folder is used. The file attributes you can use are:


Read-only

Specifies that the file or folder is read-only and cannot be modified.


Hidden

Specifies that the file or folder is hidden and can be viewed only if the folder option “Show hidden files, folders, and drives” is enabled.


System

Identifies a system file or folder that can be viewed only if the folder option “Hide protected operating system files” is disabled.

You can view or change the Read-Only and Hidden attributes on a file or folder by completing the following steps:

  1. In Windows Explorer, right-click the file or folder and select Properties to display its Properties dialog box.

  2. On the General tab, shown in Figure 1, select the Read-only checkbox to make a file or folder read-only. Clear the Read-only checkbox to allow a file or folder to be read and modified.

  3. To hide a file or folder so that it can be viewed only if the folder option “Show hidden files, folders, and drives” is enabled, select the Hidden checkbox. Otherwise, clear this checkbox to allow a file or folder to be viewed normally.

  4. Click OK to save your changes.

Figure 1. Viewing and setting file attributes


Generally, Windows 7 manages the System attribute. Windows 7 marks files and folders that you shouldn’t modify as system files. You can view files and folders marked with the hidden and system attributes by completing the following steps :

  1. In Windows Explorer, click Organize on the toolbar and then select Folder and Search Options.

  2. On the View tab, shown in Figure 2, select “Show hidden files and folders” to show hidden files and folders.

  3. To show system files and folders, clear the “Hide protected operating system files” checkbox.

  4. Click OK to save your settings.

Figure 2. Showing hidden files and folders


Although these attributes can be set on files and folders, anyone with access to a disk or device can override or change these settings. This means that without additional permission controls, these attributes provide no safeguards for file access or deletion that someone can’t override easily.

3. NTFS Permissions

Access flags are your only choice for controlling how files or folders are used with FAT, but NTFS allows you to control the way files are used with both access flags and NTFS permissions. NTFS permissions provide granular control over the way files and folders are used. When you strip away all the needless stuff you really shouldn’t worry about, NTFS permissions boil down to these five things:


Basic permissions

Top-level permissions that you can assign to user and group accounts


Special permissions

Low-level permissions that you can assign to user and group accounts


Ownership permissions

Permissions that identify a file or folder’s highest permission holder


Inherited permissions

Permissions that are inherited from the folder in which a file or folder is stored


Effective permissions

Permissions in effect for a particular user or group based on the combination of all permissions assigned to that user or group

You assign basic permissions and other permissions to the various user and group accounts available on your computer or on your network. Accounts on your computer include those accounts created by the operating system as well as accounts you’ve created. Local accounts on your computer are named using the following syntax:

ComputerName\AccountName

This means that if your computer is named DadsComputer and your user account is Dad, you’ll see the account referenced as DadsComputer\Dad.

Network accounts are named using the following syntax:

DomainName\AccountName

This means that if your workplace domain is TheOffice and your user account is WilliamS, you’ll see the account referenced as TheOffice\WilliamS.

If you want to manage permissions for multiple users, you will typically do this using group accounts. Your computer has several standard group accounts, including Administrators and Users. Any user that is a member of your computer’s Administrators group has administrator access permissions on your computer. Any user that is a member of your computer’s Users group has user access permissions on your computer. On a domain, your network has Administrators and Users groups that apply to the entire network as well.

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