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Secure USB drives by using BitLocker in Windows

USB disk drives are getting smaller, lighter and more portable. In fact, there are some ultra portable ones that fit in your pocket and don't require a power supply. There are also USB flash memory drives or thumb/pen drives as they are sometimes called. They are tiny.

These drives are easily lost or stolen and then the thief has access to all your files. They might contain personal information, private files and so on. It is best to use some sort of security system that prevents thieves and people who simply find your lost drive, from gaining access to the contents.

Encrypt the drive

The best way to secure your files and everything on the USB drive is to encrypt it. This uses a utility to scramble the contents so that it just looks like random data and makes no sense. But to someone with the password - you - the drive works exactly the way it always has and the encryption is transparent. You can access your files just as easily as with an non-encrypted drvive.

There are utilities that can encrypt drives and VeraCrypt is one example, but if you have Windows 8 Pro or Enterprise editions, or Windows 7 Ultimate or Enterprise editions, you can use the built in disk encryptor, BitLocker. Microsoft had a special, cheap, upgrade price for Windows 8 Pro, so it is likely a lot more people have BitLocker than with Windows 7.

Use BitLocker

The first task is to plug in the USB disk drive or flash memory drive that you want to encrypt. Open and Explorer window and select Computer on the left. Right click the drive on the right and select Turn BitLocker on.


You are first asked how you want to unlock the drive and the usual way is with a password, so tick the first option and then enter the password you want to use. Make it hard to guess of course, so nothing that is obvious.


Next is an option to save a recovery key. This can be used to unlock the drive if you forget the password. It is not a good idea to save it where someone could find it, such as the PC the USB drive is attached to. There is a useful option to save it to your Microsoft account. The choice is yours though.


Finally, there is a choice of either just encrypting the used disk space or encrypting the entire drive. It is faster just to encrypt the used space, which may be just 100GB, rather than encrypting the whole disk, whcih could be 500GB or more. However, you should be aware that deleted files and information might still exist in the free space. It is therefore worth the extra few minutes it takes to encrypt the entire drive. This will encrypt the free space and any deleted files there.


That's it, the drive is ready to use. Whenever you plug it in you will see a pop-up notification that it is encrypted and it needs a password. Once this has been entered it works just like a normal drive. However, the contents are secure should you lose it or it is stolen.

Related tips...

Set the privacy options in Windows 8
Protect yourself with BufferZone Pro
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