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How to password protect flash drives essentially means how to password protect USB (Flash) drives. The vast majority of software offering password protection for USB drives or USB Flash drives provide the password protection only in conjunction with encryption; that is the password protects the decryption/encryption key. An exception from the rule is FolderLock, which offers password only protection mode. If that’s what you are looking for check out the article, but please note that encryption is generally perceived safer.
If, on the other hand, semantics doesn’t matter so much then you might be interested in the free TrueCrypt encryption for your USB drive, which protects your Flash Drive with a password. There are a number of easy-to-use USB drive encryption tools but they usually cost money. TrueCrypt on the other hand is a full-fledged FREE encryption suite in which the novice user might not see the wood for the trees. So I have written a short tutorial for USB Flash Drive encryption with TrueCrypt 6.2a which runs on Windows XP, Vista, Mac OS X, as well as Linux.
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TrueCrypt USB Flash Drive Encryption Tutorial
The portable version of TrueCrypt as presented here always requires Admin privileges. The full information about TrueCrypt Traveler mode can be found here in the section Traveler Mode, yet my suggested way of setting up USB Flash Drive encryption should meet the need of most users:
Download, install and open True Crypt. Go to Tools, Traveler Disk Setup. Hit the Browse Button and navigate to your USB Flash Drive; click OK. Set AutoRun Configuration (autorun.inf) upon insertion of traveler disk to Start TrueCrypt.
Leave Include TrueCrypt Volume Creation Wizard ticked and hit Create. Click the OK button when you see the message TrueCrypt Traveler Disk has been successfully created. Click Close. Exit True Crypt.
Open the TrueCrypt.exe on the USB drive. Select Create Volume, then create an encrypted file container. Click Next.
Select Standard TrueCrypt Volume, then click Next. Select File and navigate to your USB flash drive. Name your container (e.g. USBcontainer). Click Save. Click 2 x Next.
Assign the amount free space you want to allocate to USBcontainer. Then click Next to enter and confirm a password.
Click Next. Click Yes if you see a warning message (or No and define a password of at least 20 chars).Click Format.
When you see the message The TrueCrypt Volume has been successfully created click OK. Click Exit.
Upon inserting the USB stick on another computer either Autorun comes up or you have to run Truecrypt.exe from the USB Flash Drive.
Hit Select File (USBcontainer), Click Open. Select a Drive letter for USBcontainer or click Auto-Mount Devices. Enter your password.
That's it, but do yourself a favour and learn or how to use TrueCrypt or the the portable version of TrueCrypt before you go 'live' !
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The Bottom Line
As opposed to Windows 7 Bit-Locker To Go which only permits encryption on premium editions of the operating system, mainly the Ultimate edition, does TrueCrypt allow you to encrypt and decrypt any data on the fly without restriction whatsoever; however Admin privileges are always required. If you are looking for password protection software for flash drives without encryption then check out Bright Hub's review Folder Lock: Password Protection & File Encryption. Alternatively read the fourth article of this series for a wonderful workaround using compression utilities.
- Author's own experience