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Is File & Folder Encryption Possible in FAT32?

by G.S. Jackson
Chad Baker/Photodisc/Getty Images

The FAT32 filesystem represents Microsoft's earlier attempts to implement a filesystem during the Windows 95 and 98 era. A basic filesystem, it does not allow for disk encryption. This means that while you can still use third-party applications to encrypt data and store it in a FAT32 directory or hard drive, Windows itself does not have any tools for encrypting native folders or entire disks.

Native Disk Encryption

Native disk encryption differs from typical file encryption in that the encryption is tied directly to the hard drive and the operating system. The encryption can encode an entire hard drive or a single directory, and is tied to your username and password. This means that others who try to access your computer will find an encrypted hard drive, which encrypts everything on the drive. Apple uses its own disk encryption application, called FileVault, while Microsoft implements the Bitlocker native encryption.

FAT32 and NTFS Filesystems

Early Microsoft operating systems used the File Allocation Table filesystem. A "filesystem" is a programmatic way of organizing how files are saved to and retrieved from the physical hard drive. FAT uses a table of memory locations that list where particular data items are stored. Microsoft's later attempt at filesystems, the New Technology File System, or NTFS, allowed for more advanced data storage options such as data streams, and complied with the Windows NT security model.

Native Encryption FAT32

Since FAT32 was an early filesystem for Windows 95, certain security features were left out. Windows 95 appeared early in the history of the Internet, so security measures such as encrypted filesystems or secure Internet communication protocols were not implemented by default. As such, FAT32 does not support native disk encryption, nor is there a way to implement it through updates. Encryption was introduced with the release of NTFS.

Encryption Options

You may, however, use third-party encryption apps to encode data. These apps work by encoding single files and, in the case of some compression programs like WinZip or 7-Zip, entire directories. Since they are not tied directly to the filesystem or the operating system, they copy the data into encoded form, which you can then save on the FAT32 filesystem like any other file.

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