🥇 How to easily encrypt USB drives on macOS

4 min

So you have some files that you don’t want anyone to access. Your Mac is already pretty secure, but what happens if you want to encrypt a USB drive?

This is where disk encryption comes into play. It basically protects your USB stick by encrypting the data stored on it and requiring a password for access.

You may not know that, but macOS actually has a few built-in USB encryption features that allow you to encrypt and decrypt USB drives and other storage devices in no time. Here’s how to use them.


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Use Finder to encrypt USB drives on MacBook

As of macOS Mojave, you can easily encrypt and decrypt generic mass storage devices with Finder on the go.

This uses the same XTS-AES encryption type of encryption that the macOS FileVault 2 system uses. Keep in mind that using Finder to encrypt a USB stick will limit use on macOS. You cannot access the data on a Windows or Linux computer.

Use the macOS Finder app to encrypt the USB drive

  • Connect your USB stick or a general mass storage medium to your Mac.
  • Open the Finder.
  • Right-click on the USB stick in the left sidebar. It will appear under “Locations”
  • Click “Encrypt” (name of the mass storage drive). If you don’t see this option, continue with the following note.
  • The Finder now prompts you to enter a password and a hint. This allows you to access the data on your USB stick – so don’t lose it!
  • When you have entered all of this, click on Encrypt Disk.

USB encryption - MacBook Finder app

Finder will then encrypt your USB stick. Depending on how much data is available, the process may take a while.

To access the contents of the USB stick, you must enter the previously created password. There is absolutely no way to reset this password. Make a note of it in a safe place or use a password management platform.

Note: If you don’t see the “Encrypt” option, right-click on the USB stick. This means that the USB storage device is not in the correct format to use the built-in macOS encryption. You need to use the following method to encrypt your drive.

Use the disk utility in macOS to encrypt USB drives

If you don’t see the “Encrypt” option, your USB device has not been formatted with a GUID partition mapping. This is a prerequisite for Finder encryption.

To get the encryption option, you need to delete your USB flash drive and then encrypt it in Disk Utility. Of course, make sure you copy all the data from your USB drive to a safe place. Somewhere on your Mac’s internal hard drive is a good option. Once your data is in a safe place, you can actually erase and encrypt your flash drive.

USB encryption on MacBook - Disk Utility

  • Open the disk utility. You can find it in Applications -> Utilities in the Finder or in the Utilities folder in the launchpad.
  • Click on the Disk Utility top menu bar view,
  • Now choose the Show all devices Option to check if it is not already checked.
  • Select your USB stick in the left sidebar. Make sure you click the top option and no subsequent device names are listed below it.
  • Press the Clear Disk Utility toolbar option.
  • Give your USB stick a new name.
  • Under the To plan Menu, make sure you have GUID partition map selected. You need to change this before choosing the format. Which brings us to …
  • From the Format menu, choose Mac OS Extended (Journaled, Encrypted),

Encrypt USB drive using Disk Utility on MacBook

From here you will be asked to enter a password and to indicate it again. As with the Finder method, you want to keep it in a safe place because you cannot reset it. When you are finished, click “Delete”.

When all is said and done, copy all the data that was originally stored on your USB stick back to the safe place. Once it is on the drive, it is automatically encrypted and password-protected.

Alternative method

Alternatively, you can also set the format to Mac OS Extended (Journaled) and the GUID partition mapping scheme. This will not encrypt your USB drive in Disk Utility, but you can encrypt it using the simple Finder method.

This may be the preferred option if you don’t want to commit to an encrypted drive and password immediately, but want to encrypt your storage later with Finder on the go.

USB drive encryption for Windows PC and Mac

USB encryption - Veracrypt

The above two methods ensure that your data is safe and secure no matter what happens. Of course, they only work on MacOS devices. This is because the Mac OS Extended format, like its name, is only compatible with Apple computers.

If you need to access your data from a Windows PC or Linux computer, you should choose a third-party encryption solution. Some high quality options are DiskCryptor and VeraCrypt.

They can both be used and opened completely free of charge, but they don’t save on encryption quality. In fact, both apps offer a variety of different encryption options – like AES, Twofish and Serpent.

You can’t go wrong either. They are both fairly easy to use, so we don’t give detailed instructions on how to encrypt them with them. Just make sure you encrypt your drive with a Windows or Linux compatible format like FAT32.

More information can be found on the respective websites.

If you use USB drives to transfer information, it is always a good idea to encrypt the drive so that your privacy and security are protected in case you lose the drive. This applies in particular if you save personal photos, contract documents etc. on USB sticks. We hope you find these tips helpful. Please let us know in the comments below if you have any questions.

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