When you lose your USB flash drive or it’s stolen from you, there is a risk that someone will access the data stored on it. If you want to stop anyone from getting the data stored on your USB drive, there is only one way of doing it which is to encrypt the data.
Encrypting the entire USB drive (or its individual folders) is the only truly safe way to prevent anybody from accessing your data saved on this USB drive. Unless the thief knows the password (or your password is too easy to guess), encryption is a sufficient hindrance, at least for most people. A good encryption associated with a long strong password makes the protection even unbeatable.
What does it mean that the data in encrypted? What is it like to work with encrypted data?
Imagine the encrypted USB disk as a locked case with documents that are written in a script that only you can understand (you and whoever has the key to decipher it - who knows the password). For anyone else, the content of the case is unreadable, even if they have it in their hands. The key to deciphering is hidden behind the password, so anyone who knows the password can access the data as easily as any other non-encrypted data.
From the user’s point of view, working with an encrypted USB drive is exactly the same as working with any other non-encrypted disk except that they must enter a password at the beginning. Sometimes it may be necessary to launch an encryption application first and in order to do so, the user will be asked to enter the password. Sometimes, users avoid this first step by making the computer remember this password (some encryption applications allow to do so). Although this is more comfortable for the user, it decreases the security of the data saved as it removes the protection for the case an unauthorized person gets hold of this particular computer.
Do I need to buy an encrypted USB drive?
It is easier to protect your data on a USB drive having been encrypted by the manufacturer because the encryption is already active on the device. The only thing the user has to do is to set up a password. You can even buy a USB drive equipped with an integrated fingerprint reader or keypad for entering a numeric code, which makes it even more user-friendly as the user doesn’t have to enter their password every time. However, any USB flash drive can be encrypted if you know how to do it. There’s nothing complicated on it, just use a piece of free or commercial software.
How can I encrypt an ordinary USB drive? What software applications are out there to encrypt drives?
If you are not an owner of a flash drive encrypted by the manufacturer, you can use a variety of software applications to encrypt USB drives (as well as classic external drives). If you use Windows operating system in the Pro edition (not Home), you can use Bitlocker, which is part of the system by default. You can also use dedicated encryption software, such as:
- Veracrypt (free)
- Symantec Endpoint Encryption