How to encrypt a flash drive using Windows

If you’ve got important data saved on a flash drive, you’ll want to protect it from unauthorized access. This means encrypting it or protecting it with a password. We’ve put together this guide to explain a few ways of doing this, either using a built-in Windows tool or a freeware solution.

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Encrypting a flash drive using standard Windows software

You don’t have to download special software to encrypt a flash drive – Windows comes with all you need. In fact, its built-in tools can protect data both on USB drives and in folders on your hard drive. Wherever your data is stored, the first thing you need to check is whether the drive or disk is formatted with NTFS. Encryption won’t work with FAT/FAT32. Once you’ve checked this, simply follow these steps to password protect your USB drive or folder:

  1. With the mouse, right click on the folder that you want to protect.
  2. Click on “Properties” at the bottom of the menu.
  3. In the window that opens, go to the “General” tab and click on “Advanced…”.
  4. In the new window, check the box next to “Encrypt contents to secure data”.
  5. Click on “OK” to confirm, and then choose whether you want to encrypt just the folder or all the subfolders and files in it as well.
  6. Click on “OK” again.

Windows will now encrypt your folder. This can take anywhere between a few minutes and an hour, depending on how big the folder is.


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Save the encryption certificate and key

After encrypting the flash drive, Windows will prompt you to save the file encryption certificate and key. This is important because you’ll need both of these to access the encrypted data at a later date.

  1. Click on “Back up now (recommended)”.
  2. A wizard will guide you through the next steps. First, choose a secure password.
  3. Give the encryption certificate a meaningful name so you can easily find it again.
  4. Tell Windows where to save the file. The default save location is usually a subfolder of the user data folder on your C drive.

To reduce the risk of losing data, it’s good practice to make at least one backup copy (preferably two) of important files like encryption certificates. The 3-2-1 backup rule is a good strategy to follow.

How to encrypt a flash drive using BitLocker To Go

If you’re running the Pro version of Windows, you’ve got another option for protecting flash drives: BitLocker To Go. Plug the USB drive into your PC, then do the following steps:

  1. Click on “Start”. Then go to “Settings” > “System”.
  2. In the window that opens, in the left pane, click on “About”. Then in the main pane, under “Related settings”, click on “BitLocker settings”.
  3. In the new window that opens, select the USB drive that you want to password protect in the “Removable data drives – BitLocker To Go” section. Click on “Turn on BitLocker” (next to the relevant drive).
  4. You should now see the “Choose how you want to unlock this drive” dialog box. Select “Use a password to unlock the drive” and enter a secure password. Click on “Next” to confirm.
  5. Windows will now ask how you want to save your recovery key. There are three options: “Save to your Microsoft account”, “Save to a file” and “Print the recovery key”.
  6. For this example, we’ll select the second option. It’s always a good idea to print the key (option 3) as well so that you can store it in a safe place.
  7. Select “Save to a file”, then click on “Next”. In the next window, you’ll need to decide whether you want to encrypt only the used disk space or the entire drive. For flash drives, it’s usually best to choose the second option.
  8. Click on “Next” to confirm your choice, and then on the next screen select “Compatible mode”. This will prevent compatibility issues with other versions of Windows.
  9. Finally, click on “Next”, then on “Start encrypting”.

Do not remove the USB drive or turn off your computer during the encryption process as this might cause errors or cause your USB drive to no longer be recognized.

Using VeraCrypt to protect a flash drive with a password

VeraCrypt is a free program and provides a very secure way of encrypting your data. First, you’ll need to download the freeware and install it on your computer. The interface is in English by default, but you can change the language in the settings if necessary. When you use VeraCrypt to encrypt a flash drive, all the data on the drive is deleted, so make sure that you’ve removed any important files or emptied the drive beforehand.

To encrypt your flash drive using VeraCrypt, you have to set up a data container. Here’s how:

  1. Open VeraCrypt and click on “Create Volume” to launch the wizard.
  2. Select “Create an encrypted file container” and click on “Next” to confirm your choice.
  3. Next, select “Standard VeraCrypt volume”. Then, under “Volume Location” (in the next window), select the USB drive that you want to encrypt and enter a file name. Choose a meaningful name so that you’ll remember what the file is.
  4. Click on “Save” to finish creating the volume.
  5. Back in the wizard, click on “Next” to go to the “Encryption Options” screen. The default setting is AES, and this is perfectly sufficient for private use, so you can simply click on “Next”.
  6. The next window is headed “Volume Size”. This is where you define how big you want the encrypted space on the USB drive to be. By default, the entire drive is selected. Click on “Next” to confirm.
  7. In the next window, choose a secure password for encryption and decryption. The “Use keyfiles” option generates a key file for added protection. Any kind of file can be used as a keyfile, such as an image or even an MP3 file. Alternatively, you can let VeraCrypt generate a new file with random content. To do this, you will be prompted to move your mouse around a defined area for 30 seconds. VeraCrypt records the random data in a file which you then need to save on your computer and select as a keyfile.
  8. Specify whether you want to store files larger than 4 GB in your VeraCrypt volume. Then, click on “Next”, followed by “Format”. VeraCrypt will now set up the volume.
  9. A message will appear to tell you when the process is complete. Click on “OK” to acknowledge it. You can now close the wizard by clicking on “Exit”.

Using your password protected USB drive

To use the encrypted flash drive, you must have VeraCrypt installed on your computer, and the driveor volume must be mounted. Here’s how to do this:

  1. In the main VeraCrypt window, click on “Select file…” and select your USB drive.
  2. Choose one of the available drive letters from the list.
  3. Click on “Mount” to confirm. Then, enter the password you set up for the drive and, where applicable, select your keyfile. Then, click “OK”.
  4. You will now be able to access the data on your flash drive.
  5. When you’re ready to remove the drive, make sure that you dismount it in VeraCrypt first using the button in the main window.

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