Encryption 101: your complete guide
Infosec 101 - 11 min read
May 18, 2022
Apr 12, 2020
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Most people nowadays need to have access to their files wherever they go. External HDDs and flash drives are a great way to have lots of data accessible fast. But first, make sure to password-protect your USB drives. Otherwise, someone could get hold of your files.
Most computers already have built-in software allowing you to password-protect your USB drive for free. Today, we'll show you how to encrypt a flash drive using BitLocker on Windows and FileVault 2 on macOS.
Digital data has many distinct features that make it different from physical documents and folders. One of them is the ability to make unlimited copies and one-click transfers. But it’s as much of a benefit as it is a flaw. Digital data can be stolen without leaving a trace, or lost when transferred to a portable device.
Only when your data is on a password-protected USB drive can you be fairly certain that no one can access it even if you lose it.
If you have Windows 10, BitLocker should already be installed. Keep in mind that older Windows (7, Vista, 8) run a different version of BitLocker and may not be compatible with files encrypted using BitLocker on Windows 10 machines.
To encrypt a flash drive with BitLocker:
a) Save it to your Microsoft account (faster recovery, but Microsoft could give away your recovery key (e.g., when presented with a warrant).
b) Save it to a file (you hold the recovery key, but be cautious of where you hide it).
c) Print it out (you hold the recovery key, and no one has digital access to it).
Whatever you choose, remember that without your password, the recovery key is the only way to access files on your encrypted flash drive.
Next, select how much of your drive to encrypt. Unless you had critical files on the flash drive in the past, select Encrypt used disk space only.
You may want to decrypt your flash drive in the future. To do that, right-click on your flash drive, select Manage BitLocker, and then Turn off BitLocker.
macOS also has free encryption software that comes pre-installed. It's called FileVault 2. Keep in mind that flash drives with the FAT file system must be formatted. Therefore, delete or move everything on your flash drive before you start this process.
A native encryption program saves you some hassle, but it's not ideal. BitLocker is not available on Windows 10 Home and, as we've established, may not be compatible with older Windows versions.
And you may run into problems if you try to use your encrypted flash drive on another OS. Neither BitLocker nor FileVault2 is compatible outside their respective OS.
So, how do you password-protect a USB drive that you’ll use on multiple platforms?
Third-party software like NordLocker is your best bet here. Here's why NordLocker could be the right tool for you:
a) Works on Windows and macOS
b) Syncs data via an end-to-end encrypted cloud
c) Unlimited encryption and 3GB of cloud storage free for all users
d) Easy-to-use drag-and-drop interface
e) Quick sharing of individual files and folders within the locker
Best of all, there are no difficult steps in how to password-protect a flash drive. Just create a locker on your flash drive and drag the files into it. Here, we’ll show you how.
Open NordLocker, click on Add, and create a new locker on your flash drive. You may also be asked to re-enter your master password.
Once the new locker is open, again, click on Add, and select files and folders you want to be encrypted. Alternatively, you can also drag and drop them into the locker.
John believes that the best things in life are simple. He uses the same approach when he’s writing about online security. John says that his #1 pet peeve is phishing scams. Ironically, his favorite non-work related activity is fishing.