How to Password Protect a Flash Drive

by Josh Fredman

    Flash drives offer a handy way to carry around personal information. They are much more portable than even a tablet or a laptop computer. However, if you lose them they are prone to being picked up by strangers and exploited to the fullest extent. If you have any sensitive or private information on your flash drive, protect it with password encryption. To do so you can either encrypt the files individually, or you can encrypt the entire drive — or both.

    Encrypting Individual Microsoft Office Files

    Step 1

    Open the Microsoft Office file you would like to encrypt. Most sensitive files tend to be not movies or songs, but documents with writing in them. However, if you want to encrypt, say, private family photos, this option won’t work. It has to be a Microsoft Office file, such as a Word or Excel file.

    Step 2

    Click “File” in the Menu Bar, then select “Info.” Click the “Protect document” button, then select "Encrypt with password." In older versions of Office, instead click “Tools” in the Menu Bar, and then select “Options.” Then, in the Options window, select the “Security Tab.”

    Step 3

    Enter the password you would like to use to protect the file. Make it difficult and nonobvious. Write it down someplace safe, because unlike online account passwords Microsoft has no way to retrieve your local file passwords if you lose them.

    Step 4

    Repeat this process for every file you want to encrypt.

    Encrypting a Flash Drive with Software

    Step 1

    Research and download a flash drive encryption program. This is one of those areas where you can pay money for quality products, but there are also quality freeware alternatives available. Good freeware brands include Cryptainer, TrueCrypt and USB Safeguard — the last of which offers you the dramatic option of programming the drive to erase its files if someone enters the wrong password too many times. It also offers the more optimistic option of letting you display a phone number or email address so that if an honest person finds your drive he can get in touch with you.

    Step 2

    Install the encryption software on your computer. In some cases you may be advised to install it on all the devices where you want to be able to use the encrypted drive. In other cases there isn’t even any program to install; you simply copy the software onto your flash drive and it’s ready to go.

    Step 3

    Make sure that any files you move onto the USB drive are encrypted if you want them to be, as some of these programs allow both encrypted and unencrypted data onto the drive.

    Tips

    • You can also buy flash drives that come with built-in encryption. With the encryption built into the hardware itself, this option offers a whole new level of protection. Encrypted drives vary widely in price, with the more expensive ones offering more powerful features. Do your research but expect to get what you pay for, as very cheap encrypted drives won’t offer all that much protection, or can be a hassle to use — such as requiring administrator permissions on any computer where you want to connect them.

    About the Author

    Josh Fredman is a freelance pen-for-hire and Web developer living in Seattle. He attended the University of Washington, studying engineering, and worked in logistics, health care and newspapers before deciding to go to work for himself.

    Photo Credits

    • Ryan McVay/Photodisc/Getty Images