We protect our devices, smartphones, PCs and tablets with PINs and Passwords to ensure there is no unauthorized access to our data. Securing devices is a good practice to ensure safety, and securing storage devices like hard drives solidifies security. We store most of our data on our hard drives, and if such a device with no protection gets lost or stolen, it compromises the security of our confidential and private files. But now, Windows and Mac have a built-in utility that lets users encrypt and safeguard their essential storage devices. So you don’t need to worry about having unsecured hard drives anymore.
These built-in tools in Windows and Mac let users set up a password on their storage devices. But for people who are not aware of this utility, this task can be a handful. So we have compiled this article as a guide for people looking to password-protect their hard drives. We will also tell you what you can do to ensure you don’t lose your data even if you forget your password. So without any further ado, let’s get into it.
How to Set a Password for an External Hard Drive?
As mentioned above, the built-in utility to password an external storage device is available in both Windows and Mac systems. And here, we will first see how you can go about it in a Windows machine and then we will move to the guide for a Mac user.
How to encrypt an external hard drive in Windows 10?
There is a process to encrypting an external hard drive in Windows 10. You have to choose an encryption method, an encryption mode, backup a recovery key, and create a secure password. It may seem like a lot of steps, but the overall process is simple.
Firstly you need to enable Bitlocker. It is the built-in utility tool that lets you encrypt your external hard drive. Enabling this tool is not possible if you are using a Windows 10 Home edition. Bitlocker is only available in Windows 10 Pro, Enterprise, or Education. If you are on the Home edition, you will have to upgrade to any of these to move ahead with the process.
To enable Bitlocker on your external drive, you first need to connect it to your computer. Once it is connected, it will show up on the File Explorer with a driver letter assigned to it. Go to the “This PC” section in the File Explorer and right-click on the External Hard disk drive. Choose the option “Turn on Bitlocker” here.
Windows will now load the BitLocker window on your screen. Do not remove the hard drive from your computer during this entire process.
Creating a secure password:
Now it’s time to set up the password for your hard drive. Check the box next to the option “Use a password to unlock the drive” and enter a password of your choice in the small box below that reads “Enter your password.” To confirm your new password, enter it again in the box to Re-enter your password. Finally, click on the Next step to proceed with the method.
Certain criteria need to be filled up for the new password. If any of the required conditions do not meet, you will see an error when you click Next. The conditions or criteria are:
- The password should contain at least 8 characters.
- The password must have at least one uppercase letter.
- The password must have at least one lowercase letter.
- The password must have at least one number, symbol, or space.
Once you have successfully set up a password that satisfies all of the required conditions, clicking on Next will take you to the recovery key page.
Save a recovery key:
Having a recovery key is essential as it will be the only way to access your hard drive if you ever forget the password. As soon as you set up the password, Windows will generate a recovery key.
You will have the option of printing out the recovery key or saving the key as a text file on the computer. If you are worried that you might lose the recovery key file in your computer, you can choose to print the recovery key on a piece of paper by clicking on the option “Print the recovery key”. But if you don’t want to print it out and you want to store the soft copy of the recovery key in your computer, you can do that by click on the option “Save to a file.” You can set the location where you want to save this recovery file.
Additionally, you also have the option of saving the recovery key to your Microsoft account or to a USB flash drive.
It would be best to create a recovery key file and store it on a cloud storage service. So even if the machine someday stops working entirely, you will still have the recovery key on your cloud storage service that you can use to gain access to your encrypted hard drive using any Windows 10 device.
Finally, once you have saved your recovery key file, click on the Next button.
Choose Encryption Method:
You will have to choose the encryption method you want for this password protection encryption of your external hard drive. Two encryption methods are available with Bitlocker. One is Used Disk Space Encryption, and the other one is Full Disk Encryption.
If you are encrypting a hard drive that you have never used before on another computer, then the best method to choose would be “Used Disk Space Encryption.” This will encrypt a specific sector on the drive that will ensure that whenever new data is written onto the drive, it gets automatically encrypted. That encrypted data becomes available only when the password to access the external hard drive is entered correctly.
It would be best to stay away from this encryption method if you encrypt a previously used external drive. Even if the used hard drive is formatted, someone could still gain access to encrypted content on it if you use the “Used Disk Space Encryption” method.
For used external hard drives, the perfect encryption method would be “Full Disk Encryption.” This will encrypt everything on the external hard drive, including even the bad and deleted sectors of the hard drive.
Since Full Disk Encryption encrypts everything on the used hard drive, it takes a while to complete even if there are no files saved in it. All the deleted file records on the hard drive will also be encrypted in this method. But with the Used Disk Space encryption method, the process is relatively faster.
Depending on the type of your hard drive, you have to choose between Used Disk Space Encryption and Full Disk Encryption.
How to encrypt an external hard drive in a Mac?
Encrypting an external hard drive on a Mac is much simpler than what we see on Windows. Just plug in your external hard drive onto your Mac and wait till the hard drive shows up in the Locations section.
- Right-click on your hard drive in the locations section and choose the option “Encrypt.”
- You will see a box asking for the password that you want to set for your encrypted device. Enter a password in the box for “Encryption password” and reenter the same password in the box for “Verify password.” You should even enter a password hint in the “Password hint” box that will help you remember the password if you forget it in the future. There is a small key icon next to the encryption password box. It will suggest to you some random strong passwords that you can use for the encryption.
- Once you are done selecting your password, click on the “Encrypt Disk” button.
- The encryption process will now begin, which might take a few minutes if you have a lot of content on your hard drive. Once that is done, eject your hard drive and then connect it to any Mac you want. It will ask for a password to grant you access to it. Enter the password that you have set for the hard drive and click on Unlock. You will get access to everything that is there on the hard drive.
What to do if you forget your encryption password?
Setting up strong passwords are good to keep the hard drive protected, but it can work against you too. If you forget the strong password that you set for your hard drive, you can’t access the content on the hard drive that easily. You can access using other methods, and that is what we will see here.
If you forget the password you have set using the Bitlocker tool in Windows, you should not be bothered much. When you set up the password initially, Bitlocker creates a recovery key for you. If you have printed it or saved it on your computer, you can access the content on your hard drive without any worries.
Just head over to the location where you previously saved the recovery key and open that text file. Inside the text file, you will see a series of numbers next to the Recovery key. Select that series of numbers and copy it. Now plug in your external hard drive onto your computer. Wait till the BitLocker password entry window appears on your screen. Click on More Options here and select “Enter recovery key.” Then paste the series of numbers you have copied a while ago and click on “Unlock.” You will gain access to your hard drive once again.
If you can’t remember the password, then using the recovery key every time can be time-consuming. The better option would be to set up a new password, and for that, you first need to disable the current encryption. After you disable the current encryption, you have to encrypt the hard drive again, and this time set another password for it.
To disable the encryption, right-click on the hard drive after unlocking it using the Recovery key. Select the option “Manage BitLocker.” Then under the Removable data drives section, choose the option “Turn off Bitlocker.” This will disable the encryption that you have set up on your hard drive using the Bitlocker.
Now repeat the encryption method that we have mentioned above and set a new password for the new encryption. Keep the recovery key safely in your computer if you forget the password for the encrypted drive again.
Unlike Windows, you can’t use a recovery key on a Mac to access the encrypted hard drive. The only way for you to access your hard drive is to disable the FileVault on your Mac if you forget the password.
Navigate to System Preferences > Security & Privacy > FileVault. Here click on “Turn Off FileVault.” Now you will be able to access any encrypted hard drive on your Mac without requiring the password for it. Unlike Windows, you can’t set up a new password or disable the existing encryption on your hard drive. You will need your old password to decrypt or create a new encryption password for your hard drive.
So when you are setting up the password during the encryption method, be sure to enter a password that you would remember. Also, use the password hint feature to make that you remember the password even if you forget it once. If you still feel that you might forget the password, you can create a text file with your password and save it on your computer somewhere.
So these are all the built-in tools that you can use to encrypt an external hard drive on a Windows PC or a Mac. If for some reason, you are not happy with what you get with these default encryption tools, you can even opt for third-party programs like VeraCrypt.
How to password protect external hard drive on Windows 10 using VeraCrypt?
Veracrypt is a powerful third-party encryption tool that can protect your external drive with a password. Let’s see how you can encrypt a hard drive on Veracrypt and then access the encrypted hard drive using the application.
- Download the latest version of Veracrypt on your Windows computer.
- After downloading the setup file for the latest version of Veracrypt, install it on your system. After the installation is complete, plug in your external hard drive onto your computer.
- Now launch the program on your computer.
- Click on the Create Volume button in the application window.
- Select the option “Encrypt a non-system partition/drive” and click on Next.
- Then select “Standard VeraCrypt volume” and click on Next.
- On the next window, click on the “Select device” button and then select the partition letter that represents your connected external hard drive. Then click on Ok.
- Next, you will see two options. One will allow you to create an encrypted volume, and the other will allow you to encrypt the partition in place. If you choose to create an encrypted volume, it will format the external hard drive before performing the encryption. So you will lose all the stored data on it. If you choose to encrypt the partition in place, it will encrypt the hard drive and not delete anything stored on it. Choose according to your preference, and then click on Next. If it is a new external hard drive, you can choose the option to format it.
- On the next page, enter the password you want to set for your encrypted hard drive in the “Password” box. Enter the same password again in the “Confirm” box. Then click on Next.
- On the next page, move your mouse as randomly as possible. When the progress bar below is complete, click on Next.
- Then click on Encrypt, and the encryption process will begin.
Once the encryption is complete, you can unplug your external hard drive. And if you once encrypt a hard drive using the Veracrypt software, you can access this drive only by using the VeraCrypt software. So now, let’s see how you can access an encrypted hard drive on Veracrypt.
- Launch the Veracrypt software and then connect your encrypted external hard drive to your computer.
- Select any of the drives from the list and click on “Select device.”
- In the pop-up window, select the partition letter representing your connected external hard drive and click on Ok.
- Then click on the Mount button in the lower-left corner of the Veracrypt program window.
- Then enter the password you have set for your drive in the password box and click on Ok.
- The program will now begin decrypting your external drive. Once the decryption is complete, the external hard drive will show on your Windows Explorer window. You can then open the hard drive and access any data that is stored on it.
If you don’t trust encryption programs, you can even opt for hardware-encrypted storage devices or external drives with fingerprint readers. You can set up your fingerprint to the hard drive, and the contents on the hard drive will be accessible only if you place your finger in the fingerprint reader present in the hard drive. Yes, these hard drives cost more than an average hard drive, but biometric encryption is the easier way to go if you have a habit of forgetting passwords often.
So these are all the possible methods you can use to encrypt and set a password for an External Hard Drive. If you have any questions or queries about this article, then comment down below, and we will get back to you. Also, be sure to check out our other articles on iPhone tips and tricks, Android tips and tricks, PC tips and tricks, and much more for more useful information.