How to Password Protect a Flash Drive


An attacker can copy large amounts of sensitive information from the USB flash drive of an unsuspecting victim in just a few minutes; encrypt the drive to prevent this from happening to you. Windows 8.1 Pro and Enterprise have a built-in encryption system that you can use to password-protect your flash drive, even if the drive already contains data. BitLocker uses 128-bit keys and the Advanced Encryption Standard encryption algorithm to protect your data. Be aware, however, that you may lose everything on the flash drive if you can't remember the password and don't have a recovery file.

Unlocking a flash drive encrypted by BitLocker to Go.
(Image courtesy of Microsoft)
Step 1

Press "Windows-X" to expand the Windows 8.1 Power User menu and select "File Explorer" to launch the utility. Alternatively, right-click the Windows button to display the Power User menu.

The Power User menu and the File Explorer option.
Image courtesy of Microsoft
Step 2

Right-click the USB flash drive in the left pane and select "Turn on BitLocker." Don't remove the drive from the computer while BitLocker initializes it.

The context menu and the Turn On BitLocker option.
Image courtesy of Microsoft
Step 3

Check the "Use a password to unlock the drive" box and then type the password into the "Enter your password" and "Reenter your password" fields. Click "Next."

The password fields and the Next button.
Image courtesy of Microsoft
Step 4

Select the "Save to a file" option to back up the recovery key in a text document on your hard drive. To print the key, select "Print the recovery key" and follow the instructions. If you click "Save to your Microsoft account," Windows stores the key in a document in your OneDrive account.

The Save to a File option.
Image courtesy of Microsoft
Step 5

Type a name for the key into the "File Name" field, select a folder from the left pane and then click "Save" to save the key. Click "Next."

The Save BitLocker Recovery Key As window.
Image courtesy of Microsoft
Step 6

Select the "Encrypt used disk space only" option if your drive doesn't contain any data. New data is encrypted as you add it to the drive. If the drive already contains data, select the "Encrypt entire drive" option. Click "Next."

The Encrypt options and the Next button.
Image courtesy of Microsoft
Step 7

Click "Start encrypting" to encrypt the flash drive. Don't disconnect the drive from the computer while Windows encrypts it; you may lose valuable data if you disconnect it. Your files are not protected until the encryption is complete.

The Start Encrypting button.
Image courtesy of Microsoft
Step 8

Unlock the drive by right-clicking it in File Explorer and selecting "Unlock Drive."

The context menu and the Unlock Drive option.
Image courtesy of Microsoft
Step 9

Type the password into the field and click "Unlock" to unlock the drive. All your data is available as soon as you unlock the drive, so you can rename, copy, move, add or delete files.

The Password field and the Unlock button.
Image courtesy of Microsoft

Tips & Warnings

  • Use a strong password that contains uppercase and lowercase letters, numbers, symbols, and spaces, and is at least eight characters. Avoid using complete words in your passwords -- such passwords are vulnerable to dictionary attacks.
  • To recover a key from OneDrive, open the BitLocker Recovery Keys page (link in Resources) and log in to your Microsoft account.
  • To disable the encryption, right-click the drive and select "Manage BitLocker" to display the BitLocker Drive Encryption window. Click the "Turn off BitLocker" link next to the flash drive and confirm your action.
  • To change the password, right-click the flash drive and select "Change BitLocker password." Enter the old and new password into the relevant fields and click "Change Password."
  • If you forget the password, open the text document you saved when you encrypted the drive and copy the key to the clipboard by selecting it and pressing "Ctrl-C." Right-click the drive, select "Unlock Drive," click "More options" and then select "Enter recovery key." Paste the key into the field by pressing "Ctrl-V" and click "Unlock."
  • You may lose all the data on the drive if you can't remember the password and can't get the key from a backup file.


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