You have a  USB stick  with files and documents of some importance and you want to prevent someone from accessing the files contained in it in case you lose it. Considering that you are careless, indeed very careless, losing your USB drive is now part of your day-type with all the risks that come with it. But you do not have to worry, because I have a solution that’s right for you.

What do you think about encrypting the contents of your USB stick? Exactly, I’m talking about protecting the data in your flash drive with a password and making it inaccessible by malicious and nosy people. In this way, whoever managed to steal the USB stick would never be able to read its contents, unless you know your password. I assure you: a few clicks and your pen drive will become as safe as that of a secret agent!

Courage, do not waste any more time and get to work immediately: cut out five minutes for yourself, read the instructions I’m about to give you and find out how to put the password on a USB stick using some of the best solutions available in the free field: have a Windows PC, a Mac or a computer equipped with Linux, you will surely find what is right for you. Good reading and good luck for the protection of your data!

VeraCrypt (Windows / macOS / Linux)

To encrypt a USB stick and protect it with a password supported by all operating systems, I recommend using VeraCrypt : a free and open source software (evolution of the now obsolete TrueCrypt) thanks to which you can create encrypted volumes in an extremely simple on Windows, MacOS and Linux. To download it to your PC, connected to its  official website  and click on the link related to the operating system you are using, for example VeraCrypt Setup xx.exe if you use Windows or  VeraCrypt_xx.dmg if you are using macOS. If you have a Mac, to use VeraCrypt you must also install the free FUSE for macOS software : connected to this web pageand click on the FUSE for macOS xxx link  which is on the right.

At the end of the download, if you are using a Windows PC , double click on the downloaded installation file ( VeraCrypt Setup xx.exe ) and click on the Yesbutton . In the window that opens, check the item  I accept the license terms and successfully complete the setup by clicking first on the button  Next twice in a row and then  Install , OK , Finish and No .

If you use a Mac , as already mentioned, before proceeding with the installation of VeraCrypt you have to install FUSE for macOS. Then open the pkg file of the program and, in the window that appears on the screen, click first on  Continuefor three consecutive times and then on  Accept ,  Continue  and  Install .

Then type the password of your user account on macOS (the one you use to access the system) and complete the setup by first pressing the Install Softwarebutton   and then the OK  and  Open Security & Privacy System Preferences. 

Now, click on the Allow button  located at the bottom of the System Preferences window  (to authorize the installation of FUSE for macOS) and complete the VeraCrypt setup by first pressing on Close  and then on  Move .

Once FUSE for macOS is installed, you can proceed to the installation of VeraCrypt. Then open the dmg package of the program, launch the executable VeraCrypt_lnstaller.pkg contained in it and, in the window that opens, click first on  Continue for two consecutive times and then on  Accept  and  Install .

Then type the password of your user account on macOS and finish the installation procedure of macOS first pressing on  Install software and then on  Close  and  Move .

At the end of the installation, connect the USB key to be encrypted and password protected to your PC and start VeraCrypt . If the program interface appears to be in English, go to the Settings> Language menu , select the Italian item from the window that opens and press the OK button to translate it into Italian. At the moment this operation is feasible only on Windows, not on macOS.

At this point, click on the button Create a volume of VeraCrypt, put the check mark next to the entry Encode a non-system partition / disk and presses first on the Next button and then on Yes .

Now, put the check mark next to the Volume VeraCrypt standard and press first on the Next button and then on the Select unit button to choose the device to be encrypted, then your USB drive .

Once passed this step, go ahead and choose whether to create and format the encrypted volume or if to code the partition in place : using the first option, the key will be formatted (so its contents will be deleted) and then it will be encrypted.

Choosing the second option, however, the files on the drive will be stored and encrypted, using a procedure that will take a long time (even several hours). Personally, I suggest you format the drive.

Now, choose an encoding algorithm and a confusing algorithm among the available ones (if you do not know what to choose, leave the default settings active, then AES and SHA-512 ), click Next , make sure that the size of the drive detected from VeraCrypt are correct and presses again on Avanti .

In the next screen you have to set the password to use to encrypt (and decrypt) the key: digit it in the Password and Confirm fields and move on .

So choose whether to store large files on the stick (so as to decide which file system to use) by selecting an option between Yes and No , click Next and use the File system drop-down menu to choose which file system to use.

Personally, I suggest you choose FAT if you do not intend to store files larger than 4GB or exFAT on the key, if instead you intend to store files larger than 4GB on the key (in this way the unit will be readable also by Macs and computers equipped with Linux ).

Next, choose whether to perform a quick format of the drive by putting the check mark next to the appropriate item (choose this option only if the key is not hosted sensitive data potentially recoverable thanks to programs to recover deleted files ), move the mouse cursor on completion bar at the bottom so as to make it completely green and start formatting the drive by first pressing on Format and then on Yes .

Once the formatting and encryption of the flash drive is complete, click on OK and Exit .

Good. Now you have a password protected key ready to host all your most important data.

To use the pen drive and then copy new files on it (or access the data already on it), start VeraCrypt , presses the button Select unit located at the bottom right and choose your key from the window that opens.

Next, choose a drive letter to which you want to associate the encrypted volume and click on the Mount button or VeraCrypt Auto Mount button (depending on whether you want to “mount” the drive once or automatically every time you connect the key to your computer) .

Finally, enter the password necessary to decrypt the pen drive in the window that opens and presses the OK button .

Mission accomplished! Now you can open the File Explorer (if you use Windows) or the Finder (if you use macOS) and access your encrypted key as if it were a common USB stick.

After using the unit, remember to “unmount it” by opening VeraCrypt, selecting the drive letter to which you have associated the key and presses the Unmountbutton located at the bottom left.

If you change your mind, you can deactivate the encryption of the stick and remove the password request to use it by using VeraCrypt.

Then open the program, presses the button Select unit located at the bottom right and select your key from the window that opens. Then click on the Tools volume button , select the item Permanently Decrypt … from the menu that opens and answer Yes to all the warnings that appear on the screen.

In conclusion, type the password to decrypt the key, presses the Forwardbutton , answer Yes to the warnings that appear on the screen and conclude the procedure by first pressing on Decoding and then again Yes and The volume does not contain any hidden volume. Proceed .

Note: if when connecting to the PC a key encrypted with VeraCrypt, Windows or macOS tell you that the drive is unreadable and ask you to format it, ignore the error and proceed to the volume assembly with VeraCrypt, as I explained in the tutorial.

BitLocker (Windows)

If you use a Pro, Enterprise or Ultimate edition of Windows, you can encrypt your USB drives with BitLocker , a technology that encrypts the contents of hard disks, drives and other storage units using the most advanced security standards of the moment.

BitLocker – it is good that you know it – does not require the formatting of the units subjected to encryption but makes them usable only on PCs equipped with Windows Vista or later versions of the Microsoft operating system (regardless of their edition). Without these necessary premises, we can move on to action.

Then connect the USB key that you intend to encrypt to your PC, open the File Explorer (the yellow folder icon located at the bottom left, on the taskbar) and select the item This PC / Computer from the left sidebar . At this point, right-click the icon of the key , select the item Turn On BitLocker from the menu that appears and wait a few seconds for the unit to be processed.

When the operation in the window that appears on the screen, put the check mark next to Use password to unlock the drive (so that a password to access the data on the pen drive is required), type in the fields Enter the password and Re-enter the password the password you wish to use to protect the stick and click on the Next button located at the bottom right

At this point, choose whether to save the backup of the recovery key (the backup key used to unlock the BitLocker encrypted drive if the password is lost) in your Microsoft account (ie on the cloud), in a file (from save on the PC) or by printing it , click on Next again and choose the encryption mode to be applied to the pen drive.

You can choose to apply encryption only to the space used by the disk , then only to the data currently on the key (fast operation), or to encrypt the entire drive , thus also encrypting the space of the unit that is empty but that could contain traces of files previously deleted from the pen drive (slower operation). My advice is to opt for the second option, but if you’re in a hurry and you’ve never kept sensitive files for your privacy on the stick, you can also choose the option to encrypt “only the space used by the disk”.

Now you have to choose whether to create a slightly less secure key compatible with all versions of Windows or a “super-secure” key (with XTS-AES encryption) compatible only with Windows 10 1511 and later: in the first case, put the sign of check next to the Compatible Mode item . In the second, instead, put the check mark next to the entry New encryption mode . I advise you to create a stick in “compatible mode”, which is however very secure and offers more flexibility than the keys made with the “new encryption mode”.

Then press the Next button , then click Start Encryption and wait patiently for the encryption of the pen drive (or rather, its contents) to be completed. The operation could last several minutes.

After activating BitLocker encryption on the stick, to access the content of the latter you will be asked to enter a password: if you do not type the correct password you will not be able to access and modify the files on the unit.

If you change your mind, you can remove encryption BitLocker acting in this way: open the ‘ File Explorer in Windows, select the item This PC / Computer from the left sidebar, right-click the icon of the key and select the option BitLocker management from the context menu.

In the window that opens, click on the Disable BitLocker item at the bottom, answer Disable BitLocker to the warning that appears on the screen and wait patiently for the procedure to remove the encryption is completed (it may take several minutes).

Once BitLocker encryption is disabled, you will be able to access the contents of the flash drive (which will remain intact) and edit it without having to enter the password again. In addition, the key will also be compatible with versions of Windows that do not support BitLocker and operating systems other than Windows (provided that you use a file system compatible with the latter, eg FAT or exFAT ).

Disk Utility (macOS)

If you have a Mac , you can use Disk Utility (the default macOS utility for managing disks and partitions) to create an encrypted image file on your stick and store all the data that you consider most important.

An encrypted image file is like a normal dmg file (of those downloaded from the Internet and contain programs for macOS), but its contents can be changed freely and a password is requested to open them. Interesting, right? Then go immediately to the action!

To create an encrypted image file on your USB stick, connect the pen drive to your Mac and choose whether to format it or not. If you want to format the drive, follow the instructions in my tutorial on how to format a USB stick with Mac(remembering that to create a key also compatible with Windows you have to use a file system between FAT and exFAT and an MBR partition system ).

At this point, launch Disk Utility (which you can find in the Other folder of Launchpad or search in Spotlight ), go to the File menu located at the top left and select the items New image> Image empty from the latter.

In the window that opens, make sure that the Read / Write Disk Image option is selected in the Image Format menu , choose an encoding type between 128-bit AES encoding (recommended) and 256-bit AES encoding (more secure, but more slow) and, in the window that opens, type the password you want to use to protect the image file to be created on the stick (by repeating it in the Verify field ).

At this point, move to the Size field and choose the maximum size that the image file should have (that is, the maximum file size that should contain altogether), choose the file system you want to use from the Format drop down menu (I suggest you use the same file system used for the key, eg Mac OS extended (journaled) if you intend to use the pen drive mainly on Mac or FAT / exFAT if you intend to use the drive on Windows PCs), select your USB stick from the menu located in and start creating your encrypted image file by pressing the Savebutton .

Mission accomplished! Now you have your image file in dmg format in which to insert the data you want to store securely on your USB stick. To use it, access the USB key by double clicking on its icon on the MacOS desktop, open the encrypted dmg file and type its password.

At this point, copy the files within the image file as if it were a normal folder and, when finished, “unmount” the latter by right clicking on its icon on the desktop and selecting the item Eject [file name image] from the menu that opens. Alternatively, can you bring the image file icon from the desktop to the recycle bin or click on the icon? in the Finder sidebar , next to the image file name.

Another important thing to stress is that the encrypted image files, being in dmg format, are designed to be used mainly on Mac. However, there are programs (almost always paid) that allow you to use them on Windows.