USB Devices or Flash Drives are a boon to people who would like to keep some important files in hand all the time when they travel. What will happen if you lost your USB device which has full of sensitive data like your pay slips, loan details, bank statements, etc.?

I hope you don’t want your confidential data getting into the wrong hands. So it is always safe to password protect your USB stick when you have confidential or sensitive data in it.

Password Protect Your USB Stick

Image by Robsonbillponte

Let’s see how to password protect your USB stick using the windows built in option and by using an external tool.

Password Protect Your USB Stick Using Bit Locker

If you are running on Windows Vista and above, then you can turn on Bit Locker to protect your USB device.

Follow the below steps that can help you to password protect your USB stick using Bit Locker.

  • Right click on the USB and click Turn on BitLocker… option.
  • You will be presented with a warning message as shown below. Click Yes.

Password Protect Your USB Stick using BitLocker

  • Select the Use a password to unlock the drive checkbox and enter a strong password.

Set password for BitLocker

  • In the Next screen you will be prompted to save the recovery key. Printing the recovery key is the best and highly recommended option. If you lose your password then only this recovery key can help you to retrieve your files, so make sure you keep this safe.

Save recovery key

  • Now you are just one step away from encrypting your USB device. Once you click the Start Encrypting button, your encryption will start. Depending on the size of the device the encryption time will vary.

Bit Locker Encryption started

  • Once the encryption is completed remove and insert the USB device again. You should now see a popup asking for credentials to unlock the device.

Enter password to unlock

  • Once the USB device is unlocked you can right click and manage bit locker. For instance you can Change your password for the device, print your recovery key again or unlock the USB device automatically whenever it is plugged in to your computer.

Some Downsides Of Using Bit Locker

  • It took 1 Hour and 30 minutes to encrypt a 16 GB USB device which is too long I would say.
  • There is no option to partially protect your USB device.
  • You can access your encrypted USB device in another machine only if it has BitLocker enabled which means windows XP is ruled out.

Use TrueCrypt to Password Protect Your USB Stick

TrueCrypt is an open source OTFE (On The Fly Encryption) software that works across Windows, Mac and Linux operating systems.The hidden volume feature on TrueCrypt is something that I recommend for everyone, so let me walk you through that first.

  • Download the portable version and extract it into your USB device itself.
  • Run the TrueCrypt.exe file as administrator.
  • Click Create Volume.
  • Select Create an encrypted file container option and click Next.

Create an encrypted file container

  • Select Hidden Truecrypt volume option and click Next.

Hidden Truecrypt volume

  • In the Volume Creation Mode screen, select Normal Mode option and click Next.

Volume Creation Mode

  • In the Volume Location Screen, click Select File button and create a file in your USB drive. For example I have created a folder Varshan and inside that I have created a file called Secret Compartment. Click Next.

Volume Location Screen

  • In the Next steps you will set options for your outer volume creation.
  • In the Outer Volume Encryption Options screen you can set the Encryption Algorithm and Hash Algorithm. Leave the defaults as it is and click Next.

outer volume creation

  • Define the Outer Volume Size and click Next, for demo purpose I just specified 200 MB as the outer volume size.

Outer Volume Size

  • Provide a strong password for your outer volume and click Next.

Outer Volume password

  • In the Outer Volume Format screen leave the default options as it is and click Format.

Outer Volume Format

  • It should take a few minutes to format 200 MB space. Once it is done your outer volume will be automatically mounted for you. Click the Open Outer Volume button to open the drive.

Outer volume created

  • Now in this outer volume place some files that is important but not very critical. Once you have copied some files into this outer volume, now return back to the wizard and click next.

TrueCrypt Volume Scan

  • In the Hidden Volume Encryption options screen you can set the Encryption Algorithm and Hash Algorithm. Leave the defaults as it is (you change them if you want) and click Next.

TrueCrypt Hidden Volume

  • The maximum possible size for the hidden volume will be calculated and displayed to you. Specify a size that you want to allocate for the hidden volume and Click Next.

TrueCrypt Hidden Volume Size

  • Provide again a stronger password for the Hidden Volume and click Next.

TrueCrypt Hidden Volume password

  • In the Hidden Volume Format screen leave the default options as it is and click Format.

TrueCrypt Hidden Volume format

  • Once your hidden volume has been successfully created you will be displayed a message as shown below.

Hidden volume created

  • Click Exit in the wizard.
  • Click Select File in the TrueCrypt window and locate the secret compartment file you created and click Mount button.
  • You will be prompted with a dialog to enter the password.
  • If you provide the password for the outer volume then the outer volume will be opened. If you provide the password for the hidden volume then the hidden volume is shown.

Important !!!: Make sure you don’t copy new files to your outer volume which may overwrite your hidden volume. Outer volume is basically an eye wash if you are forced to reveal your password. There is no way someone can find out that there is a hidden volume inside 😉

Encrypt the Complete USB Stick

If you want to password protect your USB stick as we did using BitLocker then follow the below steps:

  • Select “Encrypt a non-system partition/drive” option and click Next.
  • Select “Standard TrueCrypt Volume” option and click Next.
  • Click the “Select Device” button, choose the USB stick drive you want to encrypt and click Next.
  • Select “Create encrypted volume and format it” option and click Next.
  • Leave the default values as it is for “Encryption Algorithm” & “Hash Algorithm” and click Next.
  • You complete USB stick is taken for the volume size since you are going to encrypt the complete USB stick. Click next.
  • Provide a strong password for your USB stick and click Next.
  • Select the option “Yes” if your USB stick size greater than 4GB and click Next.
  • In the volume format screen select the “Quick Format” checkbox and leave the rest of the options as it is and click Format.
  • You will be presented with a popup to proceed with the format. Click Yes.
  • Once your true crypt volume is created a message will be shown. Click Ok.

USB Encrypted using TrueCrypt

  • Just like Bit Locker you need True Crypt on the machine where you would like to open the encrypted drive but since True Crypt is available as a portable option you can save it in some online storage space or even download directly from the website itself and run it.
  • There is no backdoor to retrieve the contents of your encrypted USB disk if your password is lost.

So how do you protect important files that you keep on external devices like USB stick?