How to Encrypt a Flash Drive

An encrypted USB drive is an easy way to transport sensitive files

VeraCrypt logo on a blue and green background

 VeraCrypt

There are a bunch of reasons why you'd want to encrypt a USB drive, not the least of which is how easy they are to lose. When you lose an encrypted USB drive, you may lose your files, but someone else won't be able to get them, and that's a major upside. VeraCrypt is a well trusted program that works on Windows, Mac, and Linux to encrypt any kind of drive, including USBs. It's simple to install and use, and it provides a excellent security for your drive.

Install VeraCrypt on Windows

  1.  Open up your browser, and go to the VeraCrypt download page.

    VeraCrypt download page
  2.  Locate and download the latest VeraCrypt installer for Windows on the page.

  3. When you're done downloading, launch the install EXE and confirm that you would like to run it.

    VeraCrypt install on Windows 10
  4. The installer is fairly straightforward, and it doesn't install any bloatware garbage. Agree to the license agreement, and run through the installer steps. The default options will work fine in most situations.

    VeraCrypt installer running on Windows 10
  5. When the installer's done, you'll be ready to use VeraCrypt

Install VeraCrypt on Linux

  1.  Open up your browser, and go to VeraCrypt download page.

    VeraCrypt download page
  2.  Download the latest installer tarball.

  3. Unpack the tarball into a folder. You should create a new folder to unpack all four into.  

  4. Open a terminal, and make installers executable. The easiest way to do so is by targeting the folder that you created like in the example below.

    $ chmod -R +x veracrypt-installers
  5. Pick which installer you'd like to run, and execute it. Chances are, you'll want the 64bit GUI one because it provides a convenient graphical interface to manage your drives. Double check your exact file name before running the command.

    $ cd veracrypt-installers
    $ ./veracrypt-1.23-setup-gui-x64
  6. The installer will launch with a graphical window containing the VeraCrypt license agreement. Agree, and continue through the installer.

    VeraCrypt installer on Linux
  7. Everything is very simple and should only take a few seconds to complete.

Install VeraCrypt on Mac

  1. Open up your browser, and go to VeraCrypt download page.

    VeraCrypt download page
  2.  Download the latest install DMG file.

  3.  Double click on your DMG to open and mount it.

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

  5. When the install is finished, eject the DMG by pressing the eject icon in the sidebar.

Encrypting a USB Drive

  1. Insert the USB drive into your computer. Before you go any further, make sure there aren't any files that you mind losing on the drive. It'll be entirely erased in the process.

  2. Open VeraCrypt on your computer. You'll notice that 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.

    VeraCrypt running on Ubuntu
  3. Select Create Volume just below the table in the VeraCrypt window to begin.

    Create an encrypted drive with VeraCrypt
  4. A new window will open and let you choose between creating a file container or encrypting a drive. Select Create a volume within a partition/drive to begin setting up your USB drive.

  5. The next screen will ask you to choose between a Standard VeraCrypt volume and a hidden one. Unless you have a good reason why you'd want to hide the fact that there is anything on the drive, the standard volume will work fine.

    VeraCrypt select volume type
  6. Next, VeraCrypt will ask you to select your drive. Press Select Drive to open a window containing all the drives and partitions on your system. Be careful to select the USB and not an essential system drive.

    VeraCrypt select your USB to encrypt
  7. As soon as you confirm your drive, VeraCrypt will warn you against encrypting a drive as a new user. Select Yes to continue.

    VeraCrypt warning against formatting USB
  8. VeraCrypt may ask for your user or administrative password to continue. This enables VeraCrypt to access and modify the drive.

    VeraCrypt admin password prompt
  9. VeraCrypt will warn you again that you're about to format your drive and lose everything on it. Press Yes to continue if you're certain.

  10. Now, VeraCrypt will ask you to select your encryption options. The defaults of AES and SHA-512 are great choices. If you're comfortable with this and have something else in mind, select it before continuing.

    VeraCrypt select encryption
  11. Create a secure passphrase for your drive. This is the only thing preventing someone from gaining access to your drive. It can also keep you from getting into your drive too. There is no way to recover your password for VeraCrypt. Once you've lost it, you've lost your files too. Pick something that you can remember or store it somewhere secure.

    VeraCrypt create secure passphrase
  12. VeraCrypt will format the encrypted partition that it creates. The default option is FAT, which is common on USB drives because it is the most universal, and it works across Windows, Mac, and Linux systems. FAT has the drawback of only working with files up to 4GB. If you're going to need large files on your drive or you only plan to use your drive with a certain operating system, you can choose a different format like NTFS for Windows or EXT4 for Linux.

    VeraCrypt choose USB filesystem
  13. VeraCrypt will ask you to create randomness by moving your mouse around the screen. VeraCrypt uses this random data to create stronger encryption. Move the mouse until the blue bar in the center of the window fills up. When you're done, press Format to begin the encryption and formatting process.

    VeraCrypt generate randomness for encryption
  14. VeraCrypt will warn you one last time that you'll lose everything on the drive before it kicks off formatting the drive.

  15. When it's done, VeraCrypt will present you a message letting you know that it created the drive successfully.

    VeraCrypt volume created
  16. Back on the main VeraCrypt screen, press Select Device to locate your USB to mount.

    Select your USB to mount of VeraCrypt
  17. A new window will open with a list of drives. Select the USB that you encrypted, and press Ok.

  18. You'll return to the main screen again with the path to your USB drive in the Volume subheading. Select a free drive slot in the table above, and press Mount to mount your drive.

    Mount your USB drive through VeraCrypt
  19. VeraCrypt will open a new window for you to enter your password to unlock the drive.

    VeraCrypt enter password to unlock USB
  20. Your drive will mount and appear in the slot that you selected. You can now use your encrypted USB like you normally would an unencrypted one.

    VeraCrypt USB drive mounted
  21. When you're done using your drive, press Dismount at the bottom of the VeraCrypt window with your drive selected in the table.