A couple of months ago the MeLT team were approached by a member of staff from Speech and Language Therapy to create guidance on the use of PGP encryption for encrypting video files recorded by students within hospitals. These files were of a sensitive nature and needed to be transported from the hospital to Marjon securely using encryption.
The team initially looked at PGP encryption, as this was already used at the University. PGP encryption is a very popular form of encryption which uses a public and private key system to ensure that it can only be opened by particular individuals. We began our investigation by using a software called GPG4USB, which is free to use and provides a high level of encryption. We did, however, hit a few barriers while looking at using this software for this specific purpose.
Mac/PC compatibility issues
Encrypted files would need to be opened on any computer system which posed a problem as the GPG4USB software was for PC only. After further investigation we found a similar software for Mac (PGP Tools) which would encrypt using the PGP system. This software was ideal for encrypting files on a Mac and both encryption programs worked fairly seamlessly allowing files to be encrypted on a Mac and decrypted on a PC and vice versa.
File size issues
The next issue we were presented with related to file size. The files students would be encrypting were likely to be large HD video files, but the PC version of the software would only encrypt files up to around 70mb. We found a solution for this, which would require the students to use a free file conversion software (Handbrake) to compress the original files to a size which would allow the software to process it.
File Type issues
The final hurdle we came across was the file format the HD video cameras recorded in. A large number of HD video cameras now record in a format called AVCHD, and although this can be changed it is often a default setting. This file format creates very large files which are stored within a complex file structure, some computers also struggle to read these files. Our concern was that students had already been given their cameras and that some of these would definitely record in this format. This would pose a problem when trying to encrypt these files as they would be very large and would require the entire file structure to be encrypted. Luckily handbrake and Quicktime on a Mac are able to convert these files into MP4 files, however, this could take a longtime for large files and added another step to an increasingly long and complicated process for students.
After a lot of testing as to the feasibility of using the PGP encryption software we began to look for other alternatives which would be quicker and easier for students, this included using encrypted USBs. Chris from computer services was able to lend us a SafeXs encrypted USB and also an example of a USB encrypted using freeware software (Veracrypt). Both of these already worked much better than attempting to use PGP encryption for this purpose, as the entire file, and file structure, could be transferred to the USB with no need for compression or conversion.
The freeware version, although still pretty good, had issues with compatibility across Mac and PC, with a Mac requiring software installed on the computer to open it. It also required a more complicated start up procedure and also struggled with some large files. The SafeXs USB in comparison to all the other options we had tried for encryption was a breeze to use, the software opened as soon as you plugged it into a Mac or PC and simply required a password to access the USB and use it as you would any normal storage device. We also discovered that the SafeXs encrypted USBs were actually used within the NHS for storing and transferring sensitive files, and as a result it was agreed that this would be the best option to go with for the students and staff.
The lovely new USBs have now arrived handsomely decorated with Marjon engraving and we have put together supporting material on how to use them and this has been distributed to the current placement students.
If anyone would like any further information on the using encryption software or the SafeXs USBs please do get in touch with MeLT: firstname.lastname@example.org | ext 5673