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Every single time I install an new storage device, I'm faced with the same impossible task: how to determine what is the most secure encryption algorithm/settings?

Over the years, I have basically just picked a random one out of the choices, and it never "feels good". I just want the most secure one. It worries me that the list never seems to change. For example, the default, AES, talks about "1998" and "USA government", which doesn't exactly instill confidence. But I don't know anything about all the others (or about AES for that matter) and I cannot imagine that many users do, to any meaningful extent.

And doesn't this mean that if I picked a bad one X years ago, somebody who steals my hardware could break that and, through it, bypass the security of all the other redundant backup disks which use stronger encryption because I had no idea which to pick and thus had no "favourite", but rather picked a random one each time based on "gut feeling"?

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    I can't help but giggle while remembering this relevant comic strip: xkcd.com/538 That's what a lot of people seem to forget... Oct 22, 2022 at 18:01

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Assuming you trust the software, why not trust the defaults also?

When using AES-256 for example the key space is 2^256, a 1 with 77 zeroes following. That is an incredible huge number!

Assuming you can try one billion keys per second, it would be still about 3 * 10^60 years to try all combinations.

Typically the passphrases chosen are much more weaker than the actual encryption is. So if you are worried about security, worry about your passphrase!

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AES-256 has been the worldwide industry standard 22 years for good reason. It has yet to be cracked.

40 completely random keyboard characters meets or exceeds the keyspace for AES-256. A suitable password would look something like this:

|YZkS5k"nS)\#<>b/XYSRv<yeX]"bIxds[4;fp5_

Once you meet/exceed the keyspace, there is no additional cryptographic benefit to using more characters, nor is there any benefit using a higher PIM than the default.

As for the hash, if you have a 64-bit processor, use SHA-512, as it's up to 50% faster than SHA-256 and vastly more secure. All other hash options in VeraCrypt are either slower, less secure, or both.

Finally, you must also use these critical VeraCrypt security settings:

  1. Go to Settings, Preferences, More Settings, Performance/Drive Configuration, and select, "Activate encryption of keys and passwords stored in RAM."

  2. When you mount your volume, select, "Cache passwords and keyfiles in memory."

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  • Why "must" one use those settings and how does that relate to algorithm choice?
    – schroeder
    Aug 15, 2023 at 8:11
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AES has been known for many years and still haven't been broken (instills confidence). In general, choose the largest value you can while it is still suitable speed.

redundant backup disks [...] picked a random one each time

Not a good idea. By using different algorithms for the same contents, the attacker only needs to break any one algorithm and has access to all data since it is same data encrypted with different algorithms.

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  • "the attacker only needs to break any one algorithm and has access to all." -- how? And how would only using one algorithm prevent this outcome?
    – schroeder
    Oct 22, 2022 at 17:13

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