How To Encrypt a USB Drive on a Windows PC or Mac

Chances are you have a USB drive attached to your keychain and you use it on a daily basis to transfer data. For business and personal use, these tiny gadgets are one of the easiest and quickest tools to move files from one place to another. But how safe are they?

How To Encrypt a USB Drive on a Windows PC or Mac

To be honest, unless you encrypt the drive, anybody who gets a hold of it will be able to read your data. Luckily, there are apps that allow for quick and easy encryption, regardless of the operating system you are using. However, there is a catch if you use the drive on different computers and operating systems. So let’s see what you need to do first.

USB Drive Partitioning

As hinted, if you try to use the drive on a computer other than your own, you might face certain compatibility issues. For example, you might not be able to decrypt the files or read/copy them even when they’re decrypted. This is why it is best to partition your USB drive and keep one partition for the data and the other for the executable decryption software.

It means you’ll run the encryption app from the drive and decrypt the data on the spot. With that said, one executable file won’t work for all the systems. So if you often transfer between a Mac and a PC, you should have a partition and an executable for each OS.

encrypt USB

It takes some extra work from the get-go, but you will save yourself a lot of time and trouble down the road. You’ll also avoid being stuck at an important meeting with a drive that’s unusable.

Encryption Apps

While simple encryption managers protect the files on your USB drive, they cannot encrypt the entire gadget or a partition. On the other hand, the software in the following sections helps you protect the whole drive and allows for easy partitioning and installation.

ENC DataVault

One of the highlights of this app is that it runs on macOS, Windows, and Ubuntu. Plus, you can easily transfer files from one system to another assuming the file names are compatible.

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A great thing about ENC DataVault is that you don’t need to install the drive encryption software on all your computers. The so-called vault creation process automatically puts a management/decryption system on your USB. But then, you do need a version for each OS you use.

As for the encryption itself, this software uses a 256-bit AES cipher which can be increased to 1,024 bit. You should also know that there is a desktop version and this software is not free. For a small fee, you get an unlimited license for three devices.

BitLocker

If you have either Windows 7 or 10 Pro or Enterprise edition, then you’ll be able to utilize BitLocker. As a native program to the Windows OS, it provides full disk encryption for internal and external drives.

bitlocker drive preparation too

  1. To encrypt your drive via Bitlocker, insert the drive and launch This PC/My Computer.
  2. Now, right-click the drive and choose Turn on BitLocker.
  3. Next, click on Use a password to unlock the drive.
  4. Then, enter in your password in the textbox and then again to verify it.
  5. Now, save the recovery key in a secure location on your computer. Don’t lose it, you’ll need it.
  6. Click on Next to continue with the encryption process.
  7. Select Encrypt entire drive on the next window and then click Next.
  8. Now, you can either choose Compatible mode for use with Windows 7/8 PCs or New encryption mode for Windows 10 PCs and then click Next again.
  9. The app will now encrypt the device, this may take several minutes.
  10. Close the app when finished, your device is now encrypted.

When it comes to security methods, this tool offers password and smart card authentication. In general, if you forget the password, use the Recovery Key as the backdoor to regain access to your data.

DiskCryptor

DiskCryptor Homepage

DiskCryptor has a lot of things going in its favor. The tool is completely free and it offers three 256-bit encryption methods, Serpent, AES, and Twofish. Plus, you get the option to get dual protection by combining two ciphers. And this app is also CPU-efficient so you won’t even feel it on your system.

However, DiskCryptor comes with its fair share of limitations, as well. Like BitLocker, this is a Windows-only app and there is no portable version. This means you need to install the app on every computer you use to decrypt the drive. In addition, the UI looks quite dated but it doesn’t affect the usability of the app.

Other than that, this tool is easy to use. Plug in the drive, run the app, choose your drive from the menu, and select Encrypt. Then you should choose the encryption method, set the password, and you’re good to go.

SecurStick

Another great USB drive encryption tool is SecurStick, it provides quality encryption, 256-bit AES cipher to be exact, and it’s available for Linux, Windows, and macOS. Although the official homepage for this app is in German, which can make it difficult for those that don’t speak it, there are also other sites to download this from.

It’s interesting that this app utilizes a browser-based interface. SecurStick makes a Safe Zone on your drive that works like a vault and it takes up only a fraction of the drive’s memory. With the Safe Zone on, transfer the files onto the drive via regular directory browser, and the Save Zone expands accordingly.

A Padlock on Your Data

Today, you can never get enough digital security. And even if you use the USB drive to transfer data that’s not that important, why should everybody have access to it?

With this in mind, have you used any of the apps from this list before? And if so, how did it work for you? Give us your two cents in the comments section below.

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