If you are using Windows 8.1 Professional or Enterprise, you can access a powerful encryption technology called BitLocker. “Encryption” means that the data on a drive is encoded so that it can only be read with a proper key, and “BitLocker” is a specific kind of encryption technology included with Windows. Using BitLocker, you can encrypt a USB flash drive so that it can only be accessed after entering the proper password. The security benefits of this are obvious – if you lose an encrypted flash drive, you do not need to worry about the data on the drive falling into the wrong hands.
To encrypt a USB flash drive with BitLocker, first connect the drive to your computer. (Note that the drive must be formatted with the NTFS file system to use BitLocker). After Windows 8.1 had recognized the drive, go to the Start Screen, type “bitlocker”, and click or tap on the tile for “Manage BitLocker” when it appears.
This will launch the BitLocker control panel. The control panel will list all the drives on your system eligible for BitLocker encryption. Locate the flash drive you wish to encrypt, and then click on the “Turn on BitLocker” link.
BitLocker will then initialize your flash drive. Do not remove the flash drive during this phase, as it may cause damage to the drive.
After the flash drive has been initialized, BitLocker will ask what kind of security you want to use with your drive. You can use a smart card, but it is easier to set up a password. Enter a password (making sure to select a strong password with uppercase, lowercase, numerals, and punctuation), and then hit the Next button.
BitLocker will also produce a recovery key for the drive, which you can use to recover data in the event that you forget your password. Save the recovery key to a secure location (NOT on the drive itself) and then click the Next button.
Finally, you will need to specify whether you wish BitLocker to encrypt the entire drive at once, or used space only. Encrypting the entire drive is generally more secure, so select that option, and then click the Next button. Finally, hit the Start Encrypting button, and BitLocker will begin to encrypt your drive.
BitLocker will then encrypt the drive. Note that depending upon the size of the drive and the number of files upon it, this can take some time. Do NOT remove the drive while it is still encrypting, as that may result in data loss. Once encryption is finished, you will need to enter the password you set in order to access the drive.
Note that the encrypted drive will NOT work on Mac OS X or Linux computers, only PCs with Windows Vista or higher.