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 them. While it's possible to password protect a USB drive on any operating system, VeraCrypt offers advanced encryption for any kind 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 will be 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. 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. Select Create Volume just below the table to begin.

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

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

    If you prefer the files to be hidden, you can choose Hidden VeraCrypt volume, but 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 all the drives and partitions on your system.

    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 will now ask you to select your encryption options. The defaults of AES and SHA-512 are fine, so select Next.

    The Next button
  10. VeraCrypt will show 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 pick 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 will ask 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 has the drawback of only working with files up to 4 GB. 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.

    Make sure the file system you want is selected under Filesystem.
  14. VeraCrypt will ask 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. As soon as you confirm your drive, VeraCrypt will warn you against encrypting a drive as a new user. Select Yes to continue.

    The Yes button
  16. VeraCrypt will warn you again that you're about to format your 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 will present you with a message letting you know that it created the drive successfully. Select Next to continue.

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

    The Select Device button
  19. A new window will open with a list of drives. Choose the USB that you encrypted and select OK.

    The encrypted device and OK button
  20. 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 then select Mount.

    The Mount button
  21. VeraCrypt will open 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. Your drive will mount and appear in the slot that you selected. You can now use your encrypted USB like you normally. When you're done using your drive, press Dismount at the bottom of the VeraCrypt window with your 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 your web browser and download the latest VeraCrypt installer for Windows.

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

    VeraCrypt install on Windows 10
  3. Agree to the license agreement and run through the installer steps. The default options will work fine in most situations. When the installer's done, you'll be ready to use VeraCrypt.

    VeraCrypt installer running on Windows 10

How to Install VeraCrypt on Linux

Setting up VeraCrypt on Linux requires use of 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, you would enter:

    $ chmod -R +x veracrypt-installers

  4. 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 following command:

    $ cd veracrypt-installers
    $ ./veracrypt-1.23-setup-gui-x64

  5. The installer will launch 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, you must move the program to your 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.