How to Encrypt and Password Protect Any Portable USB Drive on Mac OS Sierra

Do you use portable storage devices such as USB flash drives also known as pen drives or memory sticks?

I use them all the time because they are so easy to carry around and they make life easy for me when I need to move files from one computer (my Mac) to another (my MacBook Pro). They are even handy to use as a temporary storage location for a quick backup of some important data from my computer.

However, one of my concerns about these portable USB drives is how small they are. This makes it easy for them to be misplaced, lost or even stolen.

Obviously the actual device can be replaced, but the big concern is if the it fell into the wrong hands and how simple it is for an unauthorised person to access all my data and files by simply plugging the USB drive into a computer.

So how can you protect your files on your USB drives, pen drives and memory sticks for free with Mac OS Sierra?

You Don’t Have To Pay A Premium To Protect Your USB Drive

Most USB drives do not come with any security or protection to keep your data safe and secure and the ones that do, often demand a premium price. There really is no need to pay this additional premium as Mac OS has a built in encryption option that allows you to encrypt and password protect any of your external storage devices.

Let’s be honest, leaving your data and files on a USB drive that is NOT password protected, is like leaving the front door to your home unlocked with a sign that say I’m going out for a few hours come in, have a look around and take what you want.

All joking aside. If you use a USB flash drive, then you must password protect it to secure your data. And if you haven’t until now, I’ll assume it’s because you didn’t know how, so let me show you.

Set A Password To Unlock Your USB Drive

In this tutorial, I’ll show you how easy it is to encrypt your USB drive on Mac OS Sierra, so anytime it’s plugged into a Mac, it’ll require a password before any data or files can be accessed.

And at the end as a bonus productivity tip, I’ll show you how to access your password protected USB drive from your main Mac computer without having to type in the password each time you plug it in.

Two Things To Know Before Encrypting Your USB Drive

1. All data currently on the USB drive will be erased, so I highly suggest you copy your data and files to another temporary storage location such as your Mac’s Desktop before continuing. You can copy it back after we’re finished.
2. After encryption is complete, your USB drive will only work on Mac computers with OS X or later and will not work with Windows or Linux machines.

Let’s Encrypt and Password Protect Your USB Hard Drive.

1. Insert your USB drive into your Mac
2. Back up all data and files on your USB drive to another location. All data and files will be erased when the drive is initially encrypted.
3. Launch Disk Utility (Finder -> Applications -> Utilities -> Disk Utility).
How to Open Disk Utility on Mac OS Sierra

4. Find your USB drive under the External heading on the left side of the Disk Utility window. Choose the USB drive. Do NOT select the partition which is usually underneath the drive name and indented.
Choose Your USB Drive in Disk Utility

5. Click the Erase button across the top of the Disk Utility window.

6. In the drop down menu give a new name for the partition that will be created on the USB drive (You can use the same name as the USB drive if you want). Set scheme to GUID Partition Map.
Click Erase in Disk Utility and Choose Your Options

7. Change the Format to Mac OS Extended (Journaled, Encrypted).
Set Disk Format in Disk Utility

8. In the drop down menu, you can either type in your own password or click the key icon at the end of the Verify field to use the Password generator. I prefer to use the password generator to create a password that is harder to crack. So let’s go with that option.

9. Click the key icon and change the Type to Random, and set the Length to 20. This will display a complex password to use. The password will also be copied into the Password and Verify fields.
Click the Key Icon To Use Password Generator in Disk Utility

10. Make a copy of your password so that you do not forget it. I recommend using a Password Manager such as LastPass [LINK] or 1Password[LINK]. These are great apps that will help you store all your passwords in one central location all easily accessible and protected by one Master password.

IMPORTANT: You must keep your password safe. If you forget it or lose it, you will not be able to access any data or files on your password protected USB drive.

11. In the password hint field, I often just type where I’ve stored the password but you can type anything that will help you remember your password.

12. Click Choose to finish setting your password.

13. Click Erase. Disk Utility will get to work erasing all the data off your USB drive, creating a new partition and encrypting the storage device. The time it takes to complete this process will depend on the size of the USB drive. In this example, my 32GB SanDisk USB drive took less than 1 minute to encrypt.
Click Erase To Start Encrypting Your USB drive

14. Click Done once you get the green tick. You’re USB drive is now encrypt.
Click Done To Finish Encrypting Your USB Drive

15. Check the USB drive is encrypted by clicking the partition name of the USB drive on the left side of Disk Utility. You’ll also see the details of the drive including size and format showing it’s now using Mac OS Extended (Journaled, Encrypted).
Check Your USB Drive Has Been Encrypted Correctly

16. Remove the USB drive by ejecting it first. You can do this by dragging the USB drive icon to the Trash and then unplug from your Mac. You can go ahead and close Disk Utility.

Note: Always remember to Eject your USB drive before unplugging it from your Mac to avoid corrupting your data and files.

17. Test the newly encrypted and password protected USB drive. Simply plug the drive into your Mac. You’ll see a pop up window asking you to enter a password to unlock your disk. Simply enter your password and click unlock to mount your USB drive and start using it as normal.
Enter Your Password To Unlock Your USB Drive

18. Bonus Tip To Improve Your Productivity. When you enter your password, tick the option that says “Remember this password in my keychain”.
Remember Your Password in Your Keychain

What this does is save your password in your keychain of the Mac computer that you are using.

You can now plug that USB drive into that Mac without having to enter the password each time.

However, the USB drive is still encrypted and password protected, so if you try to use the USB drive on another Mac computer you’ll need to type in the password. Now, should you lose the device your files and data are safe and secure.

You Can Password Protect Any External Hard Drives Using This Method

This tutorial has been focused on how to password protect a USB drive, pen drive or memory stick, however the same steps can be followed to encrypt and password protect larger external drives and hard disks as well. Just remember the bigger the hard drive the longer it will take to encrypt it using Disk Utility.

One thought on “How to Encrypt and Password Protect Any Portable USB Drive on Mac OS Sierra”

  1. Good instructions. For the totally paranoid over security (i.e. me) you can do a SECOND level, i.e. you can encrypt an individual folder inside your hard drive (or memory stick).

    Essentially it is also through Disk Utility: Disk Utility/New Image/Image from folder, then it’s fairly intuitive (plenty of tuition on Google if you look). Remember to use a different password to your main hard drive one, remember to make the encrypted .dmg folder read-write, and that’s about it.

    Means that even if some crook DOES crack your hard drive password, he/she won’t be able to get his paws on your sensitive data without cracking the second password, too…

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *