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How Do I Password-protect a Flash Drive?

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I want to put all of my websites and passwords in a text file and store them on a flash drive for safekeeping. How do I password protect it?

There are several different ways to do this.

You can purchase flash drives that have built-in password or PIN protection. They tend to be pricey, but they’re almost perfect for this kind of situation.

Frankly, I don’t recommend them. There are other solutions that are more flexible and less costly.

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Encrypt the disk

One way or another, encryption is the answer.

Whole-disk encryption is an approach that encrypts the entire disk drive, be it a USB thumbdrive or an internal hard disk.

Windows Pro includes BitLocker, which can be used to encrypt an entire drive with a password.

USB Thumb Drive Another approach is to use a tool like VeraCrypt to perform whole-disk encryption. The advantage is that VeraCrypt is not limited to Windows, so in theory your drive would be portable to other systems.

How Do I Encrypt a Disk? has step-by-step instructions for both BitLocker and VeraCrypt.

Encrypt the file(s)

Rather than encrypting and password-protecting the entire disk, another approach is to encrypt only the files containing the sensitive information.

The most common way to do this is to use a zipping utility, like 7-Zip, WinZip, or Windows’ own built-in zip file support. Zip files can be password-protected to encrypt their contents (though not the list of files within the zip file).

The downside is that in order to use the contents of the file, you need to manually unzip it to create an unencrypted copy of the file. You then need to manually re-encrypt it any time you make changes to its contents.

It’s also easy to accidentally leave that copy around, or leave traces of it even after you delete it; but it’s a conceptually easy approach using commonly available tools that you can find across almost all platforms.

Use a dedicated tool

You mentioned that you wanted to save your “websites and passwords”.

Honestly, this sounds like a job for a password vault.

There are several. I happen to use and recommend LastPass, which securely synchronizes your information across all the computers you install it on as well as its own online copy.

However, if online isn’t your thing, there are tools like KeePass, which are designed to store your information in a local encrypted database. You could store it on a USB thumbdrive.

If that’s really what you’re planning to keep track of, a tool like KeePass sounds like exactly what you’re looking for.

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Leo

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Posted: May 24, 2019 in: USB drives
This is a major update to an article originally posted May 11, 2013
Shortlink: https://askleo.com/3660
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21 comments on “How Do I Password-protect a Flash Drive?”

  1. If you only need to password protect a text file, try LockNote – it looks like Notepad but the text is stored within the program (not as a separate file) and protected by a password you specify.

    Reply
  2. True crypt is the excellent application, but it is a little bit complicated. The much simpler way to password protect flash drive is such applications like lockngo. It is installed to the flash drive. To protect drive you run it from the drive, enter password and click ok button to lock it. When disk is locked it contains only lockngo file which should be run to unlock it. Very simple. No installation. No options. Another solution is security feature integrated in disk controller.

    Reply
  3. I recommend the Password Safe (PWSAFE) utility originally designed by Bruce Schneier and now available free on both PC and IOS systems. The encrypted file can be kept in a number of different places including flash drives, PC, IOS, Dropbox or Cloud and in the latter 2 cases can be updated and accessed from multiple locations with a passphrase. It is specifically designed for passwords and associated information. It can easily create backup files.

    Reply
  4. One problem which I had with TrueCrypt which I assume is also true for VeraCrypt is that you need to be an administrator on the computer you are using to decrypt the volume since it installs a driver. It’s much more flexible to use an encrypted zip file or individually encrypted files.

    Reply
      • My comment was incomplete. I should have said using Veracrypt in Portable Mode requires administrator privileges. The inability to be able to use the Portable Mode on a computer which is not yours severely limits the ability to use it on a flash drive. Most of the time, I’d want to run the portable version if I were using a computer which is not my own as most computers I would use it on probably don’t have Veracrypt installed.

        Reply
  5. Let me add a vote for Microsoft’s Bitlocker. Yes, one can only encrypt a flash drive with a Pro or Enterprise version, but once encrypted, it *can* be used with full read/write permissions with any version of supported Windows. Including Windows 7 home and Windows 10 home.
    (My understanding is Bitlocker will also work with XP and Vista, but requires a driver and may be only read-only. YMMV.)

    Reply
  6. What I would like to know is: If I type a Microsoft Word document on a Flash Drive, when I remove it from my computer is any trace of it left on my computer and if so for how long? Thanks.

    Reply
    • There are temp files, swap files, and possibly hibernation files which might contain traces of your work.

      Reply
  7. One further thing. You do need to ensure that you have a backup of the flash drive on which the sensitive data is held, otherwise it could become completely inaccessible at some time in the future. These sort of things are frequently overlooked until it’s lost or broken. There is a link above to this specific topic.

    Reply
  8. I use Microsoft Bitlocker, and if I need to read a Bitlocker-encrypted drive on my Mac, I use M3 Bitlocker Loader. It’s not free, but it’s totally reliable and will both read and write to/from Bitlocker-encrypted drives. I have no financial interest in this product, I just am sharing it because it’s the best utility I’ve found for reading *and writing* Bitlocker-encrypted drives on a Mac. I’ve been using it for about 3 years now.

    (Not sure if I can put URLs in here, so please feel free to edit this out if it’s not allowed). The website is here: https://www.m3datarecovery.com/mac-bitlocker/

    Reply
  9. Rohos is a really easy to use program that allows you to create a hidden folder on your drive. By running the portable program after plugging in the drive and entering the password, you can access the folder.

    Reply
  10. What was the question?
    Oh,yeah, it was “How do I PASSWORD PROTECTa flash drive”.
    The question didn’t say and didn’t ask a {deleted} thing about ENCRYPTING the damn thing.
    But, instead of simply answering the simple question, you’ve got to go completely stupid and answer all sorts of shit that has no bearing.
    Why the hell can’t you simply answer the damn question? Becayse you’re so much smarter than us?

    See if you can wrap all your superior intelligence around THIS”: If I wanted to know how to encrypt a flash drive, that is the subject I would search. If the person who asked the original question wanted to encrypt a flash drive, is it reasonable to think he would have asked how to ENCRYPT, instead of how to password protect it?

    So, if it’s not beneath you, and you haven’t worn youself out, could you answer the freaking question?

    Reply
    • Dude, no reason to use profanity, especially when you don’t know what you are talking about.
      There is no other way to protect password a flash drive other than encryption. The only way to password protect a drive is to encrypt the files. If it were possible to protect it any other way, Leo would have mentioned it.

      Reply
  11. While Mark may have popped a gasket in his post, he is correct, you have just stated the obvious and finally answered the question… “you cannot password protect a flash drive, all you can do is encrypt the data” Here is how you do it… bla bla bla

    Reply
  12. A few years ago, I used Imation flash drive that was p/w protected. The thumb drive was not accessible unless a password was entered afterwhich all files were immediately accessible and I mean IMMEDIATELY as opposed to encrypting the files which, after having over 25GBs of files, took many minutes to decrypt and encrypt. I don’t want that kind of wait. I want to access the files immediately upon entering the p/w. The Imation incidentally, reformatted the flash drive if the wrong password was entered 3 times. The software was also free. Any suggestions? Free password protected software for a flashdrive.

    Reply
  13. Hi Leo, I’ve been using kruptos 2 Go for a decade along with companion product kruptos 2 pro for PC between my office pc and home pc.

    Reply

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