How to Encrypt an External Hard Drive

by Contributor

Protecting data on an external hard drive or USB thumb drive protects sensitive data from falling into the wrong hands. No encryption program is foolproof but only a hacker with lots of time can break the data. Encrypting a hard drive is an easy process with the use of many free or inexpensive software options.

Choose the software the best suits your needs. Complex programs can be a hassle to use and lightweight packages don't always protect valuable data.

Download the software to the computers hard drive and unzip the file by right clicking the file icon and selecting "Open With" and selecting "Compressed File." Double-click on the unzipped file and install the program directly to the external drive.

Explore the external drive and double-click the program icon to launch it. Follow the set-up wizard and create the encryption key by moving the mouse around the screen for 30 seconds. Put in the password if desired and create the encrypted partition size. Select all or part of the external drive memory and click on "Finish."

Wait for the encryption program to finish formatting the partition, which may take minutes, hours or a full day to complete, depending on the size and speed of the external drive.

Drag, copy or save files to the external hard drive and confirm you can access them. Retrieval of encrypted files may be slower on some computers. Run programs, music files or video directly from the encrypted drive.


  • close A key is required to open encrypted data and may not be compatible with other computers.
  • close The order of installation wizard questions vary with software and versions.

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