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How to encrypt a flash drive on Windows and macOS

Jan 06, 2020

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.

Why encrypt your flash drive

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.

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.

Encrypt a USB drive on Windows 10

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:

  1. Insert the USB drive into the computer, find it via the File Explorer, right-click on the flash drive, and select Turn on BitLocker.
  2. Next, create a strong password to unlock this flash drive in the future. You can do that by selecting the Use a password to unlock the drive option and entering your password twice.
  3. 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.

Remove protection from an encrypted flash drive

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.

Encrypt a flash drive on macOS Catalina

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.

Format a flash drive on macOS Catalina

Insert an empty flash drive into your computer, right-click, and select Erase. You will be given new format options. Pick macOS Extended (Journaled) and then Erase. Now, you can encrypt the flash drive.

To encrypt a flash drive with FileVault 2:

  1. Select the drive from your desktop, right-click, and choose Encrypt.
  2. Pick a strong password and enter it twice in the two fields.
  3. The third field is for your password hint. You probably have created password hints before, but were they strong? Here's a tip for creating clever password hints.

    To create a good password hint, don't think about the password itself. Instead, consider what circumstances remind you of that password. If a password is your dog's name (it should be stronger than this), think about the place or a person that strongly associates with that name.

  4. Once that's done, click Encrypt disk.

Pros and cons of free encryption software

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.

How to encrypt a flash drive with NordLocker

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.

When you're done, close the locker and take the flash drive with you. You'll be able to access your files on any Windows or macOS computer.

John Sears

John Sears

Verified author

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.