How to Encrypt a USB Drive with TrueCrypt
What is Encryption and Why Do I Need it?
Encryption is a process, in which information is transformed into unreadable gibberish, using an algorithm. The algorithm used is based on a unique key the user chooses, and this same code can be used to decipher the encrypted information later. Encryption is useful for all your private and confidential computer files, but is especially useful for files stored on USB flash drives, or other media that can easily be misplaced or stolen. I myself have lost several USB drives in the past, and though I had personal information stored on the drives, I never had to worry because the drives were encrypted and the information was safe.
What Do I Use to Encrypt my Data?
There are many software options available for data encryption, but the program I use is TrueCrypt
. TrueCrypt is open source, is free, and works on Windows, Apple and Linux operating systems.
You can download installation files here.
Encrypting Your USB Drive
- If you have not already done so, download and install TrueCrypt.
- Insert your USB drive into the computer and open TrueCrypt. Click the button that reads "Create Volume".
- In the dialog box that appears, select the second option: "Encrypt a non-system partition/drive", and then click "Next".
- The next screen will allow you to select a volume type: standard or hidden. For this tutorial I will be making a standard encryption, though you may select hidden volume if you choose.
- At this screen you will be asked to choose the USB drive you want to encrypt. Click "select device" and highlight the correct device. Then click "Next".
- The next step will give you the option of "Create Encrypted Volume and Format It" or "Encrypt Partition in Place". Select your choice and proceed to the next step.
All data currently on the USB drive will be overwritten if you select "Create Encrypted Volume and Format It". Select "Encrypt Partition in Place" if you wish to keep the files saved on the drive. The encryption process will run significantly faster if you select "Create Encrypted Volume and Format It"
- The next step will allow you to choose an encryption algorithm. For this tutorial I will leave the options at default. If you are interested in the differences in encryption algorithms, you can read more here.
- The next window will ask you to confirm the size of the device or partition you are formatting. Verify the size and click "Next".
- This next step is very important. Here you will be asked to enter the password key that will be used to access your encrypted device.
Do not forget your password! Once the drive is encrypted you will not be able to access your files without this key. Should you forget your passkey, the only option will be to format your drive and lose all your files!
- The following step will allow you to choose a filesystem for your drive. You will also be asked to move your mouse pointer randomly over the TrueCrypt window for as long as possible. These random mouse movements are translated into a long series of numbers that help TrueCrypt randomize your encryption key. I typically spend at least a minute moving the mouse wildly around the screen, though you may choose to spend more or less time on this step. When you are satisfied with your mouse moving, click "encrypt".
- The encryption process will take some time, especially if you chose to encrypt partition in place in step 6 of the tutorial.
Using Your Encrypted Drive
- Now that your drive is encrypted, plugging it into a computer will not be enough to access it. If you attempt to access the drive, Windows will tell you that the drives requires to be reformatted. Instead, open TrueCrypt, and click "auto-mount devices."
- You will be prompted for your key to unlock the drive. Enter your key and hit "OK".
- Once you have put in the correct key, the drive will be unlocked. Take a look at the available devices in My Computer, and you will see that the drive now has 2 entries. The original encrypted entry is there, though it is unreadable, as is another entry for the same drive. This is where you can add, view or delete files from your USB drive.
- You will be able to continue using your drive until it is unplugged or unmounted from the computer. At that point you will need to re-enter your key to decrypt it again.