How To Encrypt Files On A USB Flash Drive With BitLocker To Go

Memory sticks, also known as flash drives, are extremely convenient when it comes to transporting data. Their tiny size allows you to carry them unnoticed in a pocket or on a key ring, but their storage capacity allows you to store anything including videos, documents, applications and even operating systems. Unfortunately, the small size that makes them so useful also makes them easy to lose, which can put any sensitive information you have stored on the device at risk. To protect your data, and yourself, you can utilize BitLocker To Go, a feature of Windows that encrypts your data to prevent unauthorized viewing. Without your password, smart card or recovery key, your data will be indecipherable to anyone who finds your drive. This tutorial will show how it works.

NOTE: BitLocker is available in the Enterprise and Ultimate editions of Windows 7, and also in the Pro and Enterprise editions of Windows 8 and 8.1.

How To Encrypt Your Flash Drive With Bitlocker To Go In Windows 7

To get started go to the "Control Panel" and click "System and Security -> BitLocker Drive Encryption."

Next will appear a list with all the drives available. You need to click on "Turn On Bitlocker" near the flash drive that you want to encrypt.

After BitLocker initializes the flash drive, you are be asked to choose how you want to unlock the drive. Select the first option: "Use a password to unlock the drive". Strong passwords should contain upper and lowercase letters, numbers, spaces and symbols.

Next you will be prompted to store the recovery key in the event that you forget your password. Make sure that you don't store the recovery key on the drive you are encrypting but somewhere else safe.

After you save or print the recovery file, you get a confirmation message. Click "Start Encrypting" to begin the encryption process.

While the drive is encrypting, a status bar is displayed, like the one below.

If there is an emergency and you need to eject the flash drive, you can "Pause" the process and continue it when you plug the drive in the computer again.You will need to type the password you have set, to unlock the drive and continue the process.

A notification is displayed when encryption is complete. Note that the drive icon will change to indicate that it is now encrypted with BitLocker.

How To Encrypt Your Flash Drive With BitLocker To Go In Windows 8.1

To get started with BitLocker, you'll need to insert your flash drive into a USB port on your computer.

Go to the Control Panel and click "System and Security -> BitLocker Drive Encryption."

When BitLocker loads, you'll notice that it lists all of the drives you currently have installed that support BitLocker encryption.

On the bottom of the list you'll see your flash drive under "BitLocker To Go." Click "Turn On BitLocker" where it appears to the right of your drive.

After BitLocker initializes your flash drive, you'll be presented with options for unlocking the drive once encrypted. You can use either a password or a smart card.

In this tutorial we will work with using a password. If you are interested to know more about smart cards, check out this article from Microsoft: Using Smart Cards with BitLocker.

Enter your password twice for verification and click "Next".

BitLocker now requires you to select where to store your recovery key. This step is extremely important. If you should forget the password or lose the smart card you selected in the previous step, this file will allow you to decrypt your data and use your drive.

Without it, your data will be lost.You can opt to store the file on your hard drive, print it and keep it for your records or you can save the recovery key on your Microsoft account. Microsoft recommends exercising all options to ensure you don't lose the key. Click "Next" after making your selection(s).

You can choose whether you want the entire flash drive encrypted, process that could take some time, or you can secure only the memory used by the files on it which is a better option if you're in a hurry. After you make your selection, click Next.

At this point, all of your selections are made and all you have left to do is encrypt the drive. Click or tap Start encrypting and wait for the process to end.

Encrypting a drive, especially a large drive, can take some time. For example: to encrypt a whole 15GB flash drive you have to wait up to 30 minutes.

If you need to remove your drive during the encryption process, click "Pause" on the BitLocker Drive Encryption window before proceeding, to avoid potentially corrupting your data.

You are informed that the encryption process has been paused. Only after this happens, proceed to removing the memory stick.

When you are ready to resume the encryption process, insert your drive back into your computer's USB port. Immediately upon inserting the drive, a window will pop up asking for your password to unlock the drive. Enter the password and, if you desire, check the "Automatically unlock on this computer from now on" option, to avoid typing the password with each use of the drive.

Click "Unlock" when you've finished entering your password.

When your password is accepted, BitLocker will start encrypting your drive where you left off. When your drive is fully encrypted, you'll be notified with a quick pop up.

Click Close to complete the process. Your drive is now encrypted and protected from unauthorized viewing.


As you can see from this tutorial, using BitLocker to encrypt an USB memory stick is not hard, just time consuming. If you have any questions about this procedure, don't hesitate to leave a comment below.