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How to encrypt a flash drive for Windows and macOS

Aug 16, 2020 · 5 min read

How to encrypt a flash drive for Windows and macOS

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.

What is an encrypted USB?

USB encryption can be done in two ways: by using specialized encryption software or purchasing a flash drive with altered hardware. If somebody stole your encrypted flash drive, they couldn’t access its contents unless they knew the decryption key.

Some flash drives come with a small in-built chip that requires you to create a password once you insert the drive for the first time. You will have to type the password every time you want to access your files. Other than that, it works as a regular flash drive.

When you have a flash drive with pre-installed encryption, you are less flexible, as there are no additional configurations available. But this also means that you don’t need to install anything else or worry about updates.

You can also encrypt your flash drive with native software, which is available on Windows or macOS, as well as third-party applications. Software encryption allows you to select encryption algorithms, thus giving you more flexibility. This type of encryption is recommended for advanced users.

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.

How to encrypt your flash drive on Windows With Bitlocker

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.

How to encrypt your flash drive on Windows With Bitlocker

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!

How to encrypt your flash drive on Windows With Bitlocker

7. Choose Encrypt used disk space only.

How to encrypt your flash drive on Windows With Bitlocker

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.

How to encrypt your flash drive on Windows With Bitlocker

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.

How to encrypt your flash drive on Windows With Veracrypt

3. Select Encrypt a non-system partition or drive.

How to encrypt your flash drive on Windows With Veracrypt

4. Select Standard VeraCrypt volume.

How to encrypt your flash drive on Windows With Veracrypt

5. Under Volume Type, click Select Device and find your flash drive.

How to encrypt your flash drive on Windows With Veracrypt

6. If your flash drive is empty, select Create encrypted volume and format it.

How to encrypt your flash drive on Windows With Veracrypt

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.

How to encrypt your flash drive on Windows With Veracrypt

8. On the Volume Size window, click Next as you can’t change the size of your flash drive.

How to encrypt your flash drive on Windows With Veracrypt

9. Enter a strong password.

How to encrypt your flash drive on Windows With Veracrypt

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.

How to encrypt your USB drive on macOS

3. Choose your device from the list on the left-hand side.

How to encrypt your USB drive on macOS

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.

How to encrypt your USB drive on macOS

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!

How to encrypt your USB drive on macOS

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.

Should I encrypt my flash drive?

Whether or not you should encrypt your USB depends on the value and type of information you keep there. If your USB stores a photo shoot of your dog or college essays you wrote years ago, this is hardly something that would interest a scammer. However, if you keep your work files, legal documents, or contracts and often transfer them between different devices, we strongly recommend USB encryption.

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.

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Carlos Martinez
Carlos Martinez successVerified author

Carlos is a tech geek who writes about cybersecurity, online privacy, and the latest gadgets. When not rattling his keyboard, he’s always eager to try a new burrito recipe or explore a new camping spot.


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