Losing a USB flash drive can be the stuff of nightmares if it contains sensitive or valuable information. There are many hardware and software options available for use in encrypting the contents of your flash drive and also to lock it down with a password. However, the major problem with most of these software options is that you need to have administrative access to your PC to be able to unlock these flash drives to access it.
Fortunately, Microsoft introduced an encryption system called BitLocker in its Windows Vista, Windows 7 and Windows 8 Operating Systems which will safely encrypt the data stored on your external drives and lock them down with a password. But most importantly, you need not have administrative access to your PC.
Like most encryption utilities, BitLocker protects your data by making it unreadable or inaccessible without a password or some other form of unique key. To secure the data, BitLocker uses an AES (Advanced Encryption Standard) encryption algorithm with a 128-bit key plus a data-mixing algorithmic function (known as an Elephant diffuser) for disk-related security features not offered by AES alone.
BitLocker to Go (introduced with Windows 7) enables encryption of externally attached portable drives. It uses the same encryption technology with BitLocker, but instead of protecting an OS volume, it is designed to secure data stored on a portable drive, such as a USB flash or hard-disk drive. And with Windows 8, Microsoft has updated BitLocker to Go with some new features that make it faster and easier to use than ever before.
BitLocker To Go is very straightforward to use. Simply insert the USB drive you wish to protect and locate it in the Computer folder in Windows Explorer. Next right-click the drive and select ‘Turn on BitLocker’.
Enable the setting ‘Use a password to unlock the drive’, enter and then confirm your password and click Next. Ensure you use a memorable but secure password.
Windows will now prompt you to print or save a recovery key to a file. You can use this key to regain access to the USB drive if you forget your password, so be sure to keep it in a safe place away from the encrypted drive.
Using the BitLocker To Go Reader, which is automatically installed on your USB drive, you will be able to read, but not write to the contents of the encrypted drive on a PC running Windows XP or Vista. This utility will allow you copy files off the drive and on to your PC for editing.