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Could invisibility beat encryption?

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PCMesh has unveiled software which it claims can hide any Windows file or directory, not only from other users - or thieves - of the same PC, but even from the operating system or a virus.

"Data that's protected by PCMesh Hide Files and Folders is not visible, so it can't be attacked," the company claimed. "In fact, the software itself does not even run continually, so it does not announce its presence to snoopers and hackers. The only time the software is active is when it's being used to hide or reveal protected files or directories."

Ontario-based PCMesh refused to say how the US$39.95 (around £20) program works, but running it showed that it's nothing obvious - such as marking them as hidden system files, or marking the disk space as bad blocks.

However, while protected files did not show up in the file manager, Windows clearly knew that something was there - it reported the disk space as allocated, and wouldn't overwrite it. Protected files still showed up by name in Defrag analysis reports too, so they weren't completely invisible.

Why not do the job properly and encrypt the stuff that you want to hide? PCMesh's argument is that encrypted files are still visible on the disk, and their very presence tells others that you have something to hide. It also points out that it takes time to encrypt a file - a lot of time, if it's a large file - and the likes of DES encryption are now crackable anyway.

The problem is that if others can see you've installed Hide Files and Folders, that too tells them you have something to hide. And without encryption your data is still visible to anyone with a sector editor, so while the software might deter the casual eavesdropper, it's unlikely to satisfy serious security needs.

If you're a home user looking to hide stuff from the family, this might do the trick. But for anything more serious you have to encrypt - and references to DES being cracked are simply attempts to obfuscate, when the serious stuff has moved to 128-bit AES and beyond. ®

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