Recently someone at work asked me to “burn some files on a disk.”  How quaint!  I hadn’t burned a data disk in years, what with thumb drives being so handy, inexpensive, and compact.  But this last attribute can also be a negative:  USB drives are so small, they’re easy to lose. What if you lose a USB drive and it contains sensitive information?

I was thinking about this recently as I was saving a number of passwords (which I use in conjunction with a password manager) on a jump drive.  (Don’t worry, I came to my senses and found a much more elegant solution.)  But it still had me thinking, as I have a couple of thumb drives in my bag which have files stored on them like our strategic plan and other critical files.  What if I were to lose them on a plane, somehow? Or worse yet, at a trade show?!?  I mean, stuff happens, to paraphrase the famous bumper sticker.

So I began looking for ways to encrypt of password protect thumb drives.  There are a number of solutions available, and in this post I’ll address the one that I’ve begun using.  It’s called Cryptainer LE, and it’s free.  (Like many pieces of software available online, there’s a free version and an upgraded version that you can purchase.  The free version lets you create password protected volumes on your thumb drive, each of which can hold 25MB of data; for my purposes, that’s plenty.  YMMV.)

Using the software is relatively straightforward.  I had to feel my way around a bit the first time I used it, however, so in this post I’ll provide an illustrated, step-by-step guide. In order to get started, you need to download the Cryptainer LE software onto your desktop computer; click on this link to do so:  Cryptainer LE free download.  NOTE that Cryptainer is for Windows only.

Once you’ve downloaded and installed the program, launch it.  You’ll see a window like this:

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Click on “Install Cryptainer Mobile” and then select your USB drive for the installation location (drive J in this case):

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You’ll then see this message; click on “OK”:

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Shut down Cryptainer as instructed above. If you then double click on the USB drive in “My Computer,”  you’ll see that Cryptainer LE Mobile has been installed:

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Double click on it in order to create an encrypted volume, and Cryptainer will prompt you to either accept a default name for the Cryptainer volume, or to create your own name for the volume.  In this case, I’ll use “StrategicPlan.”

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Then, enter a password twice (you REALLY need to make certain you remember it); then click on “Proceed to Create Volume”:

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The program will then create a special, 25MB volume that is only accessible via your password:

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Notice that although in this case the USB drive is drive J, the volume created by Cryptainer is referred to as volume K; the message below is self explanatory:

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After clicking on “OK” above, drive K was shown, and I dragged the file below from my hard drive:

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If I then look at drive J, you’ll see the StrategicPlan volume, but it can’t be opened unless you utilize Cryptainer LE Mobile.

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By double clicking on Cryptainer LE Mobile, the dialog box immediately below appears.  In order to actually view the encrypted files, you click on “Load” so you can load (in this case) volume K…

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That produces a dialog box requesting your password:

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Enter it and click on “OK”, and your files are accessible:

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You can work on the file, and then re-save it to your USB drive.  When you’re done working with the file, you must “unload” the encrypted volume; simply click on “Unload” and you’re done.  If you forget and try to close out of the program without performing this step, Cryptainer will prompt you to do so.

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And that’s just about it.  It’s free, it’s reasonably simple (especially if you follow these steps), and it’s reasonably idiot proof UNLESS you forget your password.  All the usual warnings about password selection apply – don’t use your name, birthdate, address, or anything similar – just make certain you can remember it!  Once again, if you’d like to try out Cryptainer LE, you can download it for free here:  Cryptainer LE free download

If you’ve used a similar product you’d like to recommend to our readers, please do so by commenting!

The Fine Print:  I have no connection to Cryptainer or Cypherix.

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2 Comments on How to password protect a USB drive

  1. Bill says:

    Having picked up some nasty virus/malware during a training class, passing around my test cases to students, is anyone aware of any USB drives that can be write locked (manual switch)? (yes, I could use a SD card in a USB reader)

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  2. RobCH says:

    I’ve just been trying to instal this software – twice, without success. For whatever reason it didn’t work (no password prompt, files easily retrievable after going through all the steps), and then wouldn’t fully uninstal, leaving various unwanted legacy files hanging about which could not be deleted manually – something I detest. I cannot recommend this based on my experience, and I will look for an alternative.

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