USB storage devices - including how to encrypt, how to use, and what to do if you forget the password

Before you start

  • These instructions are for encrypting a USB storage device on a Windows computer, for use on a Windows computer
  • When the USB has been encrypted, it cannot be used on a Mac
  • The amount of time the USB takes to encrypt will depend on the size of the drive and the data already on it. You cannot turn the computer off or remove the memory stick while it is encryption. It can take anything from a minute to several hours

Encrypting the device

  1. Insert the USB storage device into a University Windows computer
  2. Open file explorer
  3. Select the USB in file explorer Illustrative image  right click, and choose turn BitLocker on Illustrative image
  4. You will see a 'starting BitLocker' message Illustrative image
  5. The next screen asks how you want to be able to unlock the drive. Select ‘use a password to unlock the drive’ Illustrative image
  6. Enter the password you would like to use Illustrative image  
    Select next Illustrative image
  7. You will be asked how you want to backup your recovery key. The key is used if you forget the password in the future.
    It is recommended to save the key to a file e.g. on your H drive Illustrative image
    Save the file with the suggested file name (do not rename) Illustrative image Illustrative image
    Click Next
  8. Choose how much of your drive to encrypt. The choice you make will depend on your device and data. The options are to 'encrypt used disk space only' or 'encrypt entire drive'. Make your selection and click Next Illustrative image
  9. The next window asks which encryption mode to use. We recommend 'compatible mode' Illustrative image  
    Select Next
  10. You will see an are you ready to encrypt this device prompt. If so, choose 'start encrypting' Illustrative image  
  11. The encryption begins and you will see a progress bar Illustrative image
  12. When encryption finishes, a completed message is displayed Illustrative image
  13. Back in file explorer, the encrypted USB shows with a different icon Illustrative image

Ejecting the device

Each time you finish using the USB device, eject it before removing it. To do this, either right click the USB and eject, or right click the USB icon in the system tray Illustrative image and eject.

By ejecting it, you are ensuring the device is no longer in use.


Using an encrypted device

Each time you insert the device into your computer you will be prompted to enter the password: first you will get a message saying a USB device has been inserted, then the password prompt will show. You can also enter the password via the USB icon in file explorer.


What to do if you have forgotten your password

  1. Insert the USB device and, at the password prompt, select 'more options' Illustrative image
  2. Choose 'enter recovery key' Illustrative image
  3. You will be asked to enter the recovery key and shown the recovery key ID Illustrative image
    The key ID matches the start of the recovery key file name that you were prompted to save when the USB drive was encrypted.
    Find the recovery key file in file explorer Illustrative image
    Open the recovery key file and copy key. It is a string of 48 characters Illustrative image
  4. Paste the key Illustrative image  and click 'unlock' Illustrative image

Removing encryption from your device

The amount of time it takes to remove encryption will depend on the size of the drive and the data already on it. You cannot turn the computer off or remove the memory stick while encryption is being removed. It can take anything from a minute to several hours.

  1. Right click on the USB in file explorer and select 'manage Illustrative image BitLocker'
  2. Choose 'turn off BitLocker' Illustrative image
  3. Confirm you want to turn off Bit Locker Illustrative image
  4. When the decryption is complete there will be a message Illustrative image

When encryption has been removed, the USB can be used on a Mac.

Still need help?