How To Encrypt USB Drives

By Sydney Butler / September 1, 2018

I remember buying my first ever USB drive like it was yesterday. I was still in high school and enrolled in a computer programming class. We had all been using 3.5" diskettes to store our code, but these disks were fragile and unreliable. So I scraped together some pocket money and bought a USB drive with a whopping 64 MB of storage. It changed my life and I wondered how I'd actually fill it up!

Today I have a drawer full of drives ranging from a few gigabytes to 64GB. You can buy a 1TB or 2 TB drive if you like!

The truth is that thanks to cloud storage, we don't really use these drives that much anymore. But there are still plenty of reasons not to send files over the internet.

Use Windows BitLocker

If you have the Pro or Enterprise version of Windows, then you also have access to Microsoft's own encryption software known as BitLocker. You can use it for full disk encryption, which is really what it's meant for. In this case, however, we want to use it to encrypt a flash drive.

Using it with a flash drive is actually pretty easy though. Thanks to a feature known as BitLocker to Go. With this application, you can encrypt most external storage devices. Including USB drives, SD cards and basically anything using a compatible drive format. BitLocker to Go supports NTFS, FAT 16 and 32 as well as exFAT.

In Windows 10 you can access BitLocker easily as long as you have the right version. Here's what to do:

Bitlocker starting

I suggest you encrypt the entire drive, just to be safe. You should also choose "compatible mode" since this is for a removable drive. With the final choice made you can go ahead and encrypt this drive.

In future, if you want to use the drive you'll first need to enter your password.

Use Veracrypt

If your version of Windows does not have BitLocker, then your next best bet is Veracrypt. A free application that also allows you to encrypt portable drives. It's not as polished-looking as BitLocker but will get the job done.

To use your new volume, choose a drive letter on the main VeraCrypt window and click on "Automount". This will find the encrypted volume and prompt you for the password. Then you can access the encrypted volume using the normal file explorer.

Use Finder on Your Mac

MacBook Air Photo

Image Courtesy of MacWorld

If you're a Mac user, then you'll be happy to know that the Finder application already has the ability to encrypt removable drives.

It's very simple to do:

Couldn't be easier, right?

Get Hardware-encrypted USB Drives

All of these encryption methods make use of software solutions. There is, however, a more concrete solution: hardware encryption. Buying a flash drive with encryption built in at the hardware level means that even low-level access to the operating system can't get around it in any way. These drives are expensive but are perfect for government and corporate customers. You'll know if your information is worth the outlay for one of these babies.

Encryption on the Go

USB drives might not be as popular as they used to be, but if you use them then their security is an important point to consider. These methods are pretty easy to implement and definitely worth the security you'll get. So go ahead and use your USB drives with confidence.

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