Personal photos, work documents, and other sensitive information — sometimes you just have no space on your computer to store them. So you grab an external drive where you move your sensitive data. And then you stop to think: What if I lose it? What if someone else plugs it to their device? You can protect your data by encrypting your flash drive and setting a strong password. Read this blog post to learn how you can do this on Windows 10 and macOS.
How to encrypt a USB drive on Windows 10
There are a few ways to encrypt your flash drive on Windows. The most popular method is by using BitLocker, a native encryption tool you’ll find on Windows 7 and later.
Connect an empty USB drive to your device. If it contains any of your data, transfer it to a safe place or delete it.
Find your drive in the file explorer.
Right-click on it and select Turn on BitLocker. If it hasn’t previously been installed, it will do so automatically.
Decide how you want to unlock your drive once it’s encrypted. You can do so with a password or a smart card (if your drive has one). For this blog post, we used a password.
Enter your password twice. Make sure it’s a strong one. You can use the NordPass password generator, which will create a unique, reliable password for you. Keep this password secure. Otherwise, you may not be able to unlock your drive. We recommend storing it as a secure note in your NordPass app.
Get your USB recovery key, which you will need in case you forget or lose your password. You can download your recovery key and save it as a file or print it out. We don’t recommend storing this file on your computer or flash drive, as this is the same as leaving the key to your house under the doormat. Keep it safe in NordPass, and you’ll be able to access it on any device, whenever you need it.
Select Encrypt used disk space only.
Choose the encryption mode. If you think you’ll only need to use this drive on devices with Windows 10 version 1511 or later, choose New encryption mode. If not, select Compatible mode. This means you’ll be able to open your drive on older Windows versions.
Select Start encrypting. Don’t be surprised if it takes a minute or two — it all depends on the size of your drive. Give it some time to work its magic.
That’s it. Your drive is now encrypted, and no one but you can see the files it stores.
There are other alternatives you can try on your Windows device, one of them being Veracrypt. It’s not a native tool, and you’ll need to download it first. Make sure you get it from their official webpage.
Here’s how to encrypt a flash drive with VeraCrypt:
Connect an empty USB drive and launch VeraCrypt. Click Create Volume.
Select Encrypt a non-system partition or drive.
Select Standard VeraCrypt volume.
Click Select Device, which you’ll find under Volume Type, and find your flash drive.
Select Create encrypted volume and format it.
Now select hashing and encryption algorithms. We recommend choosing the AES and SHA-512 algorithms.
In the next window click Next, as you won’t be able to change the size of your USB.
Enter your password. Again, if you are struggling with ideas, create yours using the NordPass password generator.
To make the progress bar turn green, move your mouse and click Format.
Wait for VeraCyrpt to encrypt your drive and there you go — it’s done!
How to encrypt USB drive on macOS
MacOS users can also lock their flash drives with built-in encryption software. Here’s how:
Connect your USB drive and make sure it’s empty. If not, transfer your files somewhere safe.
Open Finder and find Disk Utility.
Find your device in the left-hand side menu and select it.
Click the Erase tab. Choose Mac OS Extended (Journaled, Encrypted). Create the name for your external drive.
In the next window, choose a password, and choose it wisely. You’ll need to remember it to unlock your drive later.
Click Choose to continue. Once the progress is complete, your drive is encrypted. You can now move your files back onto the drive, and they will be protected automatically.
A few things to consider before encrypting your drive:
Both Windows and macOS have native encryption tools, but they are not installed by default. You’ll have to install them beforehand.
If you use a native encryption tool, you’ll only be able to decrypt it with the same tool. This means that you might not be able to access your files on a Mac if you encrypted them on Windows, and vice versa. There are third-party tools that work across different platforms, but they might be costly.
To decrypt your drive, you’ll need to use the same encryption software, regardless of whether it’s native or third-party.
If you lose your password or the device itself, or if the device gets damaged, you’ll most likely lose your files forever. Don’t leave it to chance. Always keep copies of your sensitive data — just make sure it’s protected too.