Who doesn’t love their precious digital data. The problem with “digital” data is that it can be accessed by anyone, until and unless the data is protected by a password. Portable hard drives and USB flash drives can be carried around and can be plugged into any computer to access the data. Those having sensitive data on the drive need a solid solution so that the data can be accessed by only the rightful owners and not others. Since the drive is small and portable, it can be stolen or lost which means the data can be accessed by anyone. That’s where we can password protect portable hard drive/USB flash drives.
How to Password Protect External Hard Drive/USB Flash Drive
For this purpose, we can use TrueCrypt, which is a free, open-source program for Windows users. TrueCrypt can be used to encrypt (password protect) your data stored on a flash drive or external drive. Simply follow the below process step-by-step.
Double click the TrueCrypt Installer and then check mark the box “I accept the license terms”. Click on “Next”.
Select “Extract” and then click on “Next”.
From the pop-up box, click on “OK” and then on “YES” to confirm that you want to extract the files.
Choose a location to store the extracted files, and then click on “Extract”. When the process is finished, you will get a message that says “All files have been successfully extracted to the destination location”. Click on “OK” and then on “Finish”.
TrueCrypt is now installed. Launch this program by double clicking on TrueCrypt.exe.
Click on Create Volume button.
Select Encrypt a non-system partition/drive and then click on “Next”. We selected this option because we are going to encrypt a drive that’s not a system drive.
Select Standard TrueCrypt Volume and then click on “Next”.
Click on Select Device button.
You can now see all the partitions of your system and also of your USB or external drive. Select the partition (drive) that you want to encrypt (or say password protect) and then click on “OK”.
You’ll be returned to the Volume location dialog box. Click on “Next” to proceed forwards.
There are two options that you’ll be presented with:
- Create encrypted volume and format it: Select this option ONLY if your drive is empty, else all your data on that drive will be lost. This option will encrypt the partition and also format it. This method is fastest.
- Encrypt partition in place: If your drive already has data in it, then select this option. All the data stored will be encrypted in its place and your data will not be lost. To use this method, your drive must be NTFS file system. This method is slow.
So if your external drive already contains data, then select Encrypt partition in place, else select the other option. Just choose the appropriate option and then click on “Next”. I have selected the first option when preparing this tutorial.
You will now be presented with encryption options. TryeCrypt supports a number of different encryption algorithms. You can proceed forward by selecting the default options. Click on “Next”.
The size of the selected partition is presented so that you can verify that you are encrypting the correct volume. If this is the correct size of the partition then click on “Next”.
Now comes the most important step. Enter the password that you wish to set for this drive. Note that you should set a strong password, which cannot be easily guessed. Click on “Display password” to see the password as you type in. A strong password mixed with special characters, uppercase and lowercase letters is recommended.
Here’s one more important note. Do not ever forget your password. If you forget the password, then there is no way to recover it.
Next, TrueCrypt will ask you to move your mouse randomly within the window. This increases the cryptographic strength of the keys. Click on Format when done.
Next, TrueCrypt will encrypt the drive which can take some time depending on the size of the volume. For larger drives, it can also take hours to complete the process. Additional instructions are also provided during this process.
With this step, the process to encrypt the drive is finished. Your password protected USB drive is ready.
How to Use the Encrypted Drive
When you insert this TrueCrypt encrypted drive, you’ll get a message that asks you to format the drive before using it. Click on Cancel. Windows sees your encrypted data as an unformatted drive and that’s why this prompt is presented.
Start TrueCrypt. Click on Select Device, select the encrypted drive and click on “OK”.
Click on the Mount button to mount it. Enter the password which you have set earlier and then click on “OK”. This step will decrypt the drive and now you can see the data on your drive.
If you need more detailed information, then there’s a PDF in the TrueCrypt folder which is a user guide that explains the steps with screenshots.
This way, you can encrypt your external hard drive and USB flash drives with TrueCrypt and protect your precious data. Not just USB and external drives, but you can also encrypt entire Windows drives with TrueCrypt.