Our flash drives transfer and store sensitive data, but how can you protect it if it’s lost or stolen? Anyone who gets their hands on your USB could access your personal information. Don’t let this happen. Learn how to encrypt and password protect a flash drive below.
How to encrypt your flash drive on Windows with Bitlocker
Bitlocker is a native encryption tool available on Windows 7 and later.
1. Connect a blank USB drive. Delete any data or transfer it to a safe place if it wasn’t empty.
2. Go to your file explorer and find your USB.
3. Right-click on your drive and select Turn on BitLocker. It will automatically install BitLocker for you.
4. Choose how you will want to unlock your drive. You can either use a password or a smart card (if your drive has one). For this blog, we will only use a password.
5. Enter a strong password twice. It must contain upper-case and lower-case letters and numbers.
6. Choose how you’d like to store your recovery key. You can either save it as a file or print it out. You will need this if you lose your password or your smart card, so keep it safe!
7. Choose Encrypt used disk space only.
8. Next, choose the encryption mode. If you are confident that you will only use it with Windows 10 devices of version 1511 or later, then you can select New encryption mode. Otherwise, choose Compatible mode, which is best for drives that may be used with older version of Windows.
9. If you are sure you are ready to encrypt your drive, click Start encrypting. This may take a while depending on the size of your USB.
10. Congrats, you now have an encrypted USB flash drive!
How to encrypt your flash drive on Windows with Veracrypt
Veracrypt is a great alternative to BitLocker. It may require a few extra steps to encrypt your drive, but it offers more flexibility and allows you to choose your encryption and hashing algorithms.
1. Download and install Veracrypt from their official page.
2. Connect your blank USB drive and open VeraCrypt. Click Create Volume.
3. Select Encrypt a non-system partition or drive.
4. Select Standard VeraCrypt volume.
5. Under Volume Type, click Select Device and find your flash drive.
6. If your flash drive is empty, select Create encrypted volume and format it.
7. On the next page, you will be able to select hashing and encryption algorithms. If you are not sure what to choose, we recommend AES and SHA-512.
8. On the Volume Size window, click Next as you can’t change the size of your flash drive.
9. Enter a strong password.
10. On the Volume Format window, move your mouse until the progress bar turns green. Then click Format.
11. Confirm the formatting and wait for your drive to be encrypted. Voilà!
How to encrypt your flash drive on macOS
Similarly to Windows, macOS has built-in encryption software that you can use to password-protect your USB drive.
1. Insert your drive and transfer any files on it somewhere safe.
2. Open Finder and find Disk Utility.
3. Choose your device from the list on the left-hand side.
4. Go to the Erase tab. In the Format box choose Mac OS Extended (Journaled, Encrypted). Here you can choose a name for your drive.
5. A window will open asking you to enter a password. We suggest coming up with something strong but memorable, because if you lose this password, getting your files back will be difficult, if not impossible!
6. The erasure and encryption process will begin when you click on Choose. Once it’s completed, move your files back onto the drive. Your files are now encrypted and password-protected.
The cons of encrypting your flash drive
Even though encrypting your flash drive protects your data and is better than no encryption at all, it has many drawbacks.
- If you use native encryption tool, you will only be able to decrypt and access files on the same operating system. If you want to make your data available on any OS, you’ll need to partition your USB, make copies of your files, and make each partition encrypted in a format compatible with a specific OS.
- You can only decrypt your files with the same encryption utility. You can encrypt your drive and make it compatible with most popular operating systems, but if you transfer them to a computer that doesn’t have the same encryption software, you won’t be able to decrypt your files. To avoid this, you could partition your USB and encrypt your files while leaving the encryption software decrypted. Wherever you open the drive, you will be able to install the software to decrypt your files.
- Windows and Mac OS have free encryption tools that are native, but they are not installed by default. It’s not difficult to install them as their setup files are already stored on your device, however you still need to find them first and install them first before you can use them.
Are there any alternatives?
There are other apps you can use to encrypt your drive, like Lacie, SecurStick, or Cryptsetup. You can also buy hardware-encrypted USB drives, which allow faster access and are less prone to attacks but can be costly.
The easiest solution is a drag-and-drop app like NordLocker, which offers easy-to-use file encryption for any form of storage. Apps like this allow you to encrypt your data and store it safely on your device, USBs, or external drives. This data can also be securely transferred over the internet because no one except you and the recipient can open the encrypted file. What’s even better is that you don’t need to go through a multi-step process to encrypt your data. All you need to do is download the app, create an account, and drop your files into a folder. The app does the rest for you.