Windows 8 Guide: How To Use BitLocker To Go to Encrypt and Secure USB Drives

BitLocker Drive Encryption is a full disk encryption feature introduced by Microsoft first in Windows Vista but further developed in Windows 7 and Windows 8 with enhanced features. It’s designed to protect data by providing encryption for entire disk volumes, with default in AES encryption algorithm with 128 bit key. In order to take advantage of this enhanced feature in Windows 8, you will need a Pro or Enterprise edition of operating system installed on your computer.

BitLocker To Go is a sub-section of the BitLocker family for protecting your portable storage devices, including those USB devices we use on daily basis. This is a step-by-step guide to show you how to use it to secure your data on a portable device.

After inserting a USB device into your Windows 8 device, you can turn on BitLocker To Go either from Windows Explorer, or BitLocker screen from Control Panel. Press Win+X → Control Panel → type “BitLocker” in search box → click BitLocker Drive Encryption from the list. And then click Turn on BitLocker link button next to the USB drive to start the process.

BitLocker to Go - turning on

After a quick moment, a screen pops up asking how you want to unlock the device. Since most of us don’t have a smart card device equipped on our computer, choose “Use a password to unlock the drive“, and type in a password that’s long, complicated, and easy-to-remember.

BitLocker to Go - password

Next, you will be asked how you want to back up your recovery key. Since the password is the key to unlock your encrypted drive, it’s important you finish this step and save the recovery key in a safe place. There are two options for you to save the recovery key, Save to a file, and Print the recovery key. You will have to do either one of them to be able to go next. The 3rd option will appear if you log in using a Microsoft account.

BitLocker to Go - saving the password

Now it’s time to choose whether to encrypt the whole drive or only the used space only. As it’s hinted on the screen, if you are to encrypt a new installed drive, choosing Encrypt used disk space only, but if it’s a drive that’s been used for a while, it would be better to use Encrypt the entire drive option.

Select one, and click Next.

BitLocker to Go - encrypting method

Depending on the size of the drive and the method you choose to encrypt, it may take a long while to finish the encryption process. You will be prompted a confirmation dialog box confirming that the encryption is completed successfully. By then, you can review it in Control Panel as well.

BitLocker to Go - Encrypted drive status

That’s it. You have now successfully encrypted your USB drive using the built-in BitLocker feature. It’s not hard at all, isn’t it?

Next time when you insert the USB drive into the same or another computer, you will be prompted a window to put in the password to unlock the drive. Without a correct password, no one would be able to access the content inside the drive.

BitLocker to Go - unlock the drive

Note that on the computer you turned on BitLocker you still have the option to skip the password prompt window but on the other devices you will still need to type a password.

Kent Chen

Microsoft MVP, IT Professional, Developer, Geek, and the co-founder of Next of Windows.

Last updated: 08/04/2014

Posted in: Security , Windows 8
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