Encrypting a USB drive protects your sensitive files and data when they’re transferred between different locations. In this tutorial, TheGhanaTech.com will show you how to encrypt a USB drive in Windows 10 and Windows 11 so that no one can read or access the data stored inside without entering the right password. You can later decrypt the USB with a password or recovery key, which is also very easy to do.
Why You Should Encrypt Your Flash Drive
A USB drive is a portable device that offers a convenient way of storing and/or transferring your data, though this can come with several security risks. If you don’t encrypt your flash drive, anyone can get their hands on it and check your private files on their computer without your knowledge or consent.
Encrypting the USB stick is a reliable means of protecting it from data theft or exposure. It also allows you to delete your data more securely before discarding your drive, as it’s near impossible to recover deleted data from an encrypted drive.
How to Encrypt your USB Drive in Windows 10/11
- Turn On BitLocker
- Open Control Panel in Windows.
- Click on “System & Security -> “BitLocker Drive Encryption” and enable the feature from there.
- In Windows 11, you can also go to “Settings -> System -> Storage -> Advanced storage settings -> Disks & volumes.” The same is accessible in Windows 10 from “Settings -> Storage -> Manage Disks and Volumes.”
- Select your USB and click “Turn on BitLocker” at the bottom of the screen.
- You’ll be taken directly to Control Panel.
- Use BitLocker to Encrypt USB Drive
- Wait a few seconds for BitLocker to initialize the drive. Don’t remove your USB during this setup.
- Check the “Use a password to unlock the drive” box.
- Type in a password you can remember inside the “Enter your password” box and repeat it in the “Re-enter your password” box, then click “Next.” If you have a physical smart card, you can use it to unlock the USB drive with a PIN.
- You’ll get a prompt to back up a recovery key. This key allows you to access the USB drive in the event that you lose the encryption password. Save this key or print it out, but remember to store it safely.
- Select how much of your USB drive you’d like to encrypt: select the entire drive or the used space only. Then click “Next.”
- Choose either New encryption mode or Compatible mode for the BitLocker drive. If you’re going to use the USB drive on the same computer, choose the new encryption mode. However, if you want to use it on other computers running old Windows versions, select “Compatible mode.”
- Wait a few minutes for the encryption to complete. You can pause it in the middle of the process.
- After the encryption is complete, you will see options such as “Manage BitLocker” and “Change BitLocker password” (after pressing “Show more options” in Windows 11) by right-clicking the USB drive. In Windows 10, you will see both options together, as it doesn’t use context menus.
- Windows 10 offers one more option to turn on BitLocker in File Explorer itself. Click “BitLocker” on the ribbon menu followed by “Turn on BitLocker” to activate the encryption wizard.
- Once the device is encrypted and you try to open your USB drive in Windows File Explorer, you’ll see a lock button showing that it is securely encrypted. To access the drive now, you’ll be prompted to enter the password you created initially.
- There are other options such as a smart card that will automatically unlock the drive on your computer or a recovery key if you forgot the password.
How to Decrypt your USB Drive in Windows
After encrypting your USB drive, if you want to make it usable and sharable once again, you will need to decrypt it.
- If you’re using Windows BitLocker or a third-party BitLocker software, such as HasLeo, go to the BitLocker Drive Encryption folder.
- Click “Turn off BitLocker” in Device Manager.
- You will get a warning message as shown below. Click “Turn off BitLocker.”
- Wait a couple of minutes for the USB decrypting process to continue. You should see a status percentage message.
- Once finished, you will see a “Decryption of the [USB] drive is complete” message alert. This means BitLocker has been disabled for the USB drive.
- If you’re using VeraCrypt, it has a “Permanently Decrypt” option that you can access from the top of the “Volumes” tab.