The USB flash drive is one of the most useful tools at our disposal, as far as data transfer and storage goes. At the same time, however, we risk losing sensitive files due to the small size of a USB stick, which makes it easy to lose or have it stolen. In this guide, you can find out how to password protect your USB thumb drive and keep your sensitive data safe with the use of several free applications.
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Table of Contents
Password USB protection - USB with hardware encryption
The problem with the USB drive is that we cannot lock the entire thing with a single password, as we would do with our computer or cell phone.
If we want to be able to have that, we need to buy a USB flash drive which offers data encryption through hardware encryption. We can find such a USB stick on Amazon. In fact, there are even USB drives with USB fingerprint sensor.
Naturally, in this case, we ought to have a relatively high budget. Obviously, USB sticks with encryption are considerably more expensive than the respective standard ones of the same capacity.
Furthermore, we might face compatibility issues with certain operating systems. Most will work on Windows (perhaps on Mac as well), but they might not work on Linux or previous Windows editions.
The steps to password protect your USB may vary depending on the USB drive. Generally, we will be asked to enter a personal password during our first use. The bigger the capacity, the more time the process will take.
Password protect your USB drive- Individual files
As mentioned before, we cannot password protect our entire USB with a single password without using encryption. However, the process of encrypting whole folders is rather time-consuming.
Therefore, as a first alternative, we can secure just the files that we are most interested in. Many programs, such as Microsoft Word and Excel, allow us to password protect our USB, and by extension, our files.
With Excel, for instance, the procedure is the following.
After we open the file we want to protect, we go to 'File'...
... 'Info,' and then to 'Protect Workbook.'
From the collapsible list, we select 'Encrypt with Password.'
We enter our password in the window that will appear, and click 'OK.'
We will be asked to verify our password, and once we do, our file will be protected.
For us to password protect PDF files, we first need to use software capable of exporting into PDF. Most free PDF readers offer this choice only on their paid editions.
The free and light PDFTK Builder is a pretty good alternative. Moreover, it is portable, which means that we do not have to install it to run it.
Password protect your USB stick-Partition encryption
We can choose among many encryption tools to password protect our USB drive. However, most of them require administrator rights from the system.
This means that they are not particularly handy if we need to safely transfer data to devices on which we are not the administrators. Neither is it preferred (nor legal) to try to obtain an administrator's license.
We can skip all that by using the free edition of Rohos Mini Drive, which is perhaps the most widespread program for USB password protection.
The advantage this tool provides is that it will work whether we have administrator rights or not. Consequently, we avoid having to install drivers as well, if that was to be the case.
The free edition allows us to create a storage partition of up to 8GB on our USB drive, with the potential to encrypt, password protect, and hide it. The encryption Rohos uses is the typical one, using the AES algorithm and a 256-bit key.
Thanks to the Portable Rohos Disk Browser that we can install straight to our USB flash drive, we do not depend on any system during the encryption. As a result, we can retrieve our encrypted data from any location.
After we download the executable file, we install it on our system. Once the setup is complete, we can open Rohos Mini Drive.
Then, on the main page, we select 'Encrypt USB drive.'
The disk where Rohos reads our USB flash drive has been automatically selected on the window that we see next. If we want to select another disk or change the size of the encrypted partition, we naturally click on 'Change.'
Our next step is typing our password...
... and selecting 'Create disk.' After a bit of waiting...
... the encrypted partition of our USB flash drive is ready. As we will see, Windows can now recognize a separate disk, the 'Encrypted Disk (R:), apart from the USB flash drive.
If we open the encrypted partition, its contents will now have been formed like so:
Now, we can move any file or folder we consider confidential to this partition. For instance, let's copy-paste the PCsteps folder, which contains top secret information about the chief editor of this webpage.
If we connect our USB drive to a new system, as expected, the only disk that Windows can read is the USB (E:) Unit, which is non-encrypted.
By opening the USB (E:) disk, we will see that its contents have been altered. Now there are two more icons apart from the folder that we had already saved on the USB stick.
We're only interested in Rohos Mini. This application allows us to gain access to the encrypted partition, no matter where we connect our USB to.
All it takes is a double click on Rohos Mini, and the application window will emerge.
We type the password in the respective field, and Windows will notify us that it has already recognized the encrypted partition of the USB drive. We now have access to the partition we had created to password protect our files.
After we complete any task we work on in the encrypted partition, exporting our files is desirable. It is not necessary to remove the entire USB stick.
From the Rohos icon which has appeared on the toolbar, down on the left...
... by right-clicking, we can choose to export only the USB drive with the password lock.
Password protect your USB drive- Total encryption
VeraCrypt is an excellent solution to encrypt our entire USB drive. It is a free and open-source application that also comes as a portable application, and it can be executed straight from the USB flash drive.
In this case, we have a disadvantage. The app will be needing administrator rights for it to function. At the same time, the free edition limits the maximum size to 2GB.
How do you secure your USB?
Have you used any of these methods to password protect your USB stick? Do you know any other useful ways of protecting our USB data? Feel free to share your thoughts in comments below.
- Disk Utility on Mac OS X: Resize and Create Partitions
- File Encryption / Disk Encryption with VeraCrypt
- Portable Minecraft - Make a USB stick to Play Anywhere
- How To Create a Windows Installation Disc or Windows USB
- How To Install Windows 7 from USB or DVD as a Beginner
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