How to Encrypt a Flash Drive

Protect your private files with a VeraCrypt USB key

When you lose an encrypted USB drive, you may lose your files, but at least someone else won't be able to access your data. While it's possible to password protect a USB drive on any operating system, VeraCrypt offers advanced encryption for any type of drive, including USB flash drives.

VeraCrypt can be used to encrypt drives on Windows, Mac, and Linux.

How to Encrypt a USB Drive With Veracrypt

Before you begin, back up files you don't want to lose as the flash drive is entirely erased in this process. You can move the files back to the drive once it's encrypted. To protect a flash drive using Veracrypt:

  1. Download and install VeraCrypt for your operating system. See the sections below for specific instructions.

  2. Insert the USB drive into your computer.

  3. Open VeraCrypt. The top half of the window contains a table of drives. It should be empty. The bottom portion is filled with the controls for VeraCrypt. Select Create Volume to begin.

    The Create Volume button
  4. Choose Encrypt a non-system partition/drive, then select Next.

    The "Encrypt a new system partition/drive" option
  5. Choose Standard VeraCrypt volume, then select Next.

    If you prefer the files to be hidden, choose Hidden VeraCrypt volume. First, make sure you know how to show hidden files.

    The "Standard VeraCrypt Volume" option and Next button
  6. Choose Select Device to open a window containing the drives and partitions on your computer.

    The Select Device button
  7. Choose the USB drive you wish to encrypt and select OK, then select Next in the Volume Location window.

    Be careful to select the USB and not an essential system drive.

    The OK button
  8. Choose Create encrypted volume and format it, then select Next.

    The "Create encrypted volume and encrypt it" option and the Next button
  9. VeraCrypt asks you to select encryption options. The defaults of AES and SHA-512 are fine, so select Next.

    The Next button
  10. VeraCrypt shows the size of the drive you chose to help you confirm that you picked the right one. Select Next when you're ready to proceed.

    VeraCrypt may ask for your computer's administrative password to continue. This enables VeraCrypt to access and modify the drive.

    Partition size and the Next button
  11. Create a secure password or key for your drive. This is the only thing preventing someone from gaining access to your drive, so follow the on-screen advice for creating a strong password.

    There is no way to recover your key for VeraCrypt. So, choose something that you can remember or store it somewhere secure.

    Create a secure VeraCrypt key for your drive.
  12. To help pick the appropriate file system, VeraCrypt asks if you plan to store files larger than 4 GB on the device. Choose your answer, then select Next.

    Choose Yes or No, then select Next.
  13. Make sure the file system you want is selected under Filesystem. The default file system option is FAT, which is the most universal since it works across Windows, Mac, and Linux systems. However, FAT only works with files up to 4 GB. If you need large files on the drive, or you only plan to use the drive with a certain operating system, choose a different format like NTFS for Windows or EXT4 for Linux.

    Make sure the file system you want is selected under Filesystem.
  14. VeraCrypt asks you to create random data by moving your mouse around the screen. VeraCrypt uses this random data to create stronger encryption. Move the mouse until the bar at the bottom of the window fills up, then select Format.

    The random-data scale and Format button
  15. After you confirm the drive, VeraCrypt warns you against encrypting a drive as a new user. Select Yes to continue.

    The Yes button
  16. VeraCrypt warns you that you're about to format the drive and lose everything on it. Select Erase any files stored on the partition by creating a VeraCrypt volume within it.

    The "Erase any files stored on the partition ... " option
  17. When it's done, VeraCrypt presents you with a message letting you know that it created the drive successfully. Select Next to continue.

    The Next button
  18. On the main VeraCrypt screen, choose Select Device to locate the USB to mount.

    The Select Device button
  19. A new window opens with a list of drives. Choose the USB that you encrypted, then select OK.

    The encrypted device and OK button
  20. You'll return to the main screen with the path to the USB drive in the Volume subheading. Select a free drive slot in the table, and then select Mount.

    The Mount button
  21. VeraCrypt opens a new window for you to enter your password to unlock the drive.

    VeraCrypt will open a new window for you to enter your password to unlock the drive.
  22. The drive mounts and appears in the slot you selected. You can now use the encrypted USB like normal. When you're done using the drive, select Dismount at the bottom of the VeraCrypt window with the drive selected in the table.

    The Dismount button

How to Install VeraCrypt on Windows

The Windows installer is fairly straightforward, and it doesn't install any bloatware:

  1. Go to the VeraCrypt download page in a web browser and download the latest VeraCrypt installer for Windows.

    VeraCrypt download page
  2. When it's done downloading, launch the EXE file, then confirm that you would like to run it.

    VeraCrypt install on Windows 10
  3. Agree to the license agreement and follow the installer steps. The default options will work fine in most situations. When the installer is done, you're ready to use VeraCrypt.

    VeraCrypt installer running on Windows 10

How to Install VeraCrypt on Linux

Setting up VeraCrypt on Linux requires using the command line:

  1. Go to the VeraCrypt download page and download the latest generic installers for Linux.

    VeraCrypt download page
  2. Unpack the TAR file into a new folder.

  3. Open a terminal and make the installers executable. The easiest way to do this is by targeting the folder that you created. For example, if you named the folder veracrypt-installers, enter:

    $ chmod -R +x veracrypt-installers
  4. Choose the installer you'd like to run and execute it. Chances are, you'll want the 64-bit GUI installer because it provides a convenient graphical interface to manage drives. Double-check the exact filename before running the following command:

    $ cd veracrypt-installers
    $ ./veracrypt-1.23-setup-gui-x64
  5. The installer launches with a graphical window displaying the VeraCrypt license agreement. Agree and continue through the installer.

    VeraCrypt installer on Linux

Install VeraCrypt on Mac

To use VeraCrypt on macOS, move the program to the Apps folder:

  1. Go to the VeraCrypt download page and download the installer for Mac.

    VeraCrypt download page
  2. Open the DMG file to mount it.

  3.  Drag the DMG window into /Applications to begin the install.

  4. When the install is finished, eject the DMG file by selecting the eject icon in the sidebar.