How to Password Protect a USB Drive

Tools to secure your flash drive

Keeping files stored on a USB drive and away from the internet provides a lot of security, but it's important to know how to password protect or encrypt a USB drive or flash drive if it's even stolen or lost.

Install a USB Drive Password Protection Tool

Before you can password protect your USB drive, you'll need to choose and install one of the many free tools for Windows that are available for this.

  • Rohos Mini Drive: Rohos offers advanced security, including two-factor authentication.
  • USB Safeguard: This simple app lets you add password protection to your private files.
  • VeraCrypt: Open source disk encryption tool available for Windows, MacOS, and Linux.
  • SafeHouse Explorer: This file explorer tool lets you use passwords and 256-bit encryption to secure files on any drive.

If you're using macOS, you don't have to use any third-party encryption tools. Starting with Mojave (10.14), USB drive encryption is built into Finder. See the macOS section below to see how to encrypt a USB drive on macOS.

How to Password Protect a USB Drive on Windows

In the steps below, Rohos Mini Drive is used, but any of the above tools will work just as well.

While many USB encryption tools will encrypt the entire drive so it's inaccessible without a password, Rohos adds an encrypted drive to your USB drive. Afterwards, you can use the non-encrypted space for regular files, and the password-protected Rohos encrypted drive for sensitive or personal files only.

  1. Insert the USB drive into your computer. When the computer detects the USB drive, it'll be mapped as a new drive in Windows Explorer.

    Screenshot of attaching a USB stick to a computer
  2. Install the drive encryption software of your choice. Once it's installed, you're ready to encrypt the USB drive.

    Screenshot of Rohos Mini Drive main screen
  3. Most of the free encryption tools listed above let you encrypt either individual folders on any drive, or the entire drive. Select Encrypt USB drive to protect your entire USB drive. The software will recognize your attached USB drive.

    Screenshot of encrypting a drive with rohos Mini Drive
  4. Set the password you want to use to encrypt your drive, and confirm the password. Select Create disk when you're done. You'll see a pop-up window as the software encrypts the entire USB drive and encrypts all files.

    Screenshot of password protecting a USB drive
  5. When the encryption is completed, you'll see a confirmation window. Rohos doesn't immediately encrypt all files and instead installs an instance of Rohos Mini.exe you can choose to customize what on the drive gets encrypted. Open the drive and double-click Rohos mini.exe to set this up. Enter the password you configured to access this encrypted drive.

    Screenshot of Rohos mini
  6. Now you can transfer unencrypted, unprotected files and folders to the encrypted drive by cutting and pasting the files there. These files will no longer be accessible to anyone without the password you've set up.

    Screenshot of transferring files to encrypt them.

How to Password Protect a USB Drive on macOS

Password Protecting your USB drives on a macOS system is simple, since the feature is available in the Finder utility.

  1. To encrypt a USB drive with Finder, the drive needs to be formatted as GUID Partition Map only. If you need to reformat the USB drive, just temporarily copy all of the files to your Mac and use Disk Utility to erase and reformat the drive. In the Scheme pop-up menu, click GUID Partition Map.

    Image of inserting a usb drive into the usb port
     JGI/Jamie Grill\Getty Images
  2. Open Finder and right-click the USB drive icon. Click Encrypt [drive name].

  3. Enter the password you want to use to encrypt the USB drive and verify the password. You can also add a hint to remember the password later.

  4. Click Encrypt Disk to finish the USB Drive encryption process.

How to Password Protect a Flash Drive

If you want to password protect a flash drive, such as the flash cards used for cameras or other devices, the process is essentially the same.

However, before you perform a password protection on it, you'll need to use a USB reader you can insert the card into. Some computers have a flash card reader you can insert the card into directly.

Image of inserting an SD card into a computer slot
 Massimiliano Clari / EyeEm\Getty Images

Once you insert the card into your computer, the computer will mount it as another drive, just like it does when you insert a regular USB drive. You can then use any of the utilities mentioned above to add password protection. The process is exactly the same.

If you add password protection and encryption to a card you intend to use in a camera or other device, the card will no longer work with those devices. Password protection is only intended for USB drives or flash drives you're using to store data you can access from your PC.