Encrypted Volume on a USB Drive

by Steve Lander, studioD

USB drives are cheap, convenient and capacious, but they're also very insecure. The ability to put many gigabytes of data in your pocket puts all of that data at risk of loss and theft. One way to protect your information from prying eyes is to use a program to encrypt the data on your USB drive. If you set up an encrypted volume, the information on your drive will be essentially impossible to access for anyone without the password.

TrueCrypt

Step 1

Insert your USB drive into an open USB port on your computer.

Step 2

Install the TrueCrypt software by downloading it (see the link in Resources), clicking on the program icon when it finishes downloading and following the prompts in the installer.

Step 3

Double-click the "True Crypt" icon on your desktop to start the program.

Step 4

Click the "Create Volume" button.

Step 5

Click the "Create an encrypted file container" selection box, then click the "Next >" button.

Step 6

Select either the "Standard TrueCrypt volume" or "Hidden TrueCrypt volume" option, depending on your needs, then click the "Next >" button.

Step 7

Click the "Select File" button, navigate to your thumb drive in the file selector and enter a filename. Click the "Save" button in the file selector, then click the "Next >" button in the TrueCrypt wizard.

Step 8

Select an encryption algorithm and a hash algorithm in the pull-down boxes, then click the "Next >" button. The default choices provide a level of security that, as of 2012, the U.S. government considers adequate for information that is classified "Top Secret."

Step 9

Enter your desired size for your encrypted volume. If you leave the "MB" option checked and enter 650 you will get a 650 MB volume, which is roughly the size of a full CD-ROM disc. Click "Next >" once you have done this.

Step 10

Enter your desired password twice. Click the "Next >" button to continue. If you lose or forget this password, you will be unable to access the data in your encrypted volume.

Step 11

Jiggle your mouse pointer within the window for a minute or so to create random data. Click the "Format" button when you are done.

Step 12

Click the "Exit" button once it finishes formatting.

Step 13

Click an unused drive letter in the list of drives.

Step 14

Click the "Select File" button, then use the file selector to choose the container that you just created. Click "Open" in the file selector box once you have selected it.

Step 15

Click the "Mount" button, enter your password in the dialog box that comes up, then click "OK." Your encrypted volume is now mounted and ready for use.

Step 16

Dismount the drive so that you can remove your thumb drive when you are done. To do this, click the drive in the TrueCrypt box, then click the "Dismount" button. Once the "Volume" field to the right of the drive letter is empty, you can remove your USB drive.

Using Windows BitLocker

Step 1

Plug the USB drive into an open USB port on your computer.

Step 2

Click the Start button, then click "Windows Explorer." Click the "Computer" option in the resulting Explorer window.

Step 3

Right-click the icon for your USB drive in the list of drives. Select the "Turn on BitLocker" option. Wait for Windows to initialize the drive.

Step 4

Click the box labeled "Use a password to unlock the drive" and enter your password twice – once in each field. Click the "Next" button.

Step 5

Follow the prompts to save your recovery key, which will let you open your encrypted volume even if you lose your password, then click the "Next" button.

Step 6

Click the "Start Encrypting" button and wait for Windows to encrypt your data.

FreeOTFE Explorer

Step 1

Plug your USB drive's connector into an open USB port on your computer.

Step 2

Install the FreeOTFE Explorer software by downloading the installation package (see the link in Resources), clicking on the program icon when it finishes downloading and following the prompts in the installer. It will finish by automatically starting the program.

Step 3

Click the "New" button in the OTFE screen to start the Volume Creation Wizard. Click "Next" to start the wizard.

Step 4

Click the "Browse" button to open a file selector box. Click on your USB thumb drive, enter the name of the file that you would like to use to store encrypted data, and click "Save" to close the file selector. Click "Next" to go to the next step in the wizard.

Step 5

Enter the size that you would like your encrypted volume to be and click "Next."

Step 6

Choose your hash method and cipher type. The default choices should be secure enough for most applications. Click "Next" when you have made your choice.

Step 7

Choose which random number generator you want to use, then click "Next."

Step 8

Enter your password, then reenter it in the "Confirm password" box. Click "Next" when you are done. Wait for the program to create your encrypted volume.

Step 9

Click "OK" when it finishes. Your encrypted volume is now mounted and eady for use in the FreeOTFE Explorer software.

Step 10

Click the "Dismount" button before removing your encrypted drive.

Tip

  • You will need to have TrueCrypt installed on any computer that you want to use to access your drive. BitLocker installs a BitLocker to Go Program on your USB drive which you can use to access it on other Windows computers. FreeOTFE Explorer will work on any Windows computer.

Warning

  • If you lose your password, it will be essentially impossible to access your information.

About the Author

Steve Lander has been a writer since 1996, with experience in the fields of financial services, real estate and technology. His work has appeared in trade publications such as the "Minnesota Real Estate Journal" and "Minnesota Multi-Housing Association Advocate." Lander holds a Bachelor of Arts in political science from Columbia University.

Photo Credits

  • Ryan McVay/Photodisc/Getty Images