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How to Encrypt An External Drive with BitLocker

If you use an external drive to back up your important files, such as financial documents or personal files, encrypting your drive is important. This ensures that only those with the password can access the drive’s contents. On Windows, you can use BitLocker to encrypt and password-protect your external hard drive. In this tutorial, we’ll show you how to do that exactly in simple steps. Let’s get going.

Note: BitLocker is only available on Windows Pro and Enterprise editions. To verify if you have this version, check your Windows edition. For a detailed comparison of features, see our guide on Home vs Pro editions.

Note: The below steps are tested to work on Windows 8, 10, and 11.

Encrypting Your External Drive with BitLocker

To start encrypting your external drive with BitLocker, first plug in your external drive.

Next, open the Start menu by clicking on the Windows logo on the taskbar. Type Control Panel in the search bar and select the top result to open the Control Panel window. Here, select Large Icons from the View by dropdown. This will make navigating the Control Panel easier. After that, locate and click on BitLocker Drive Encryption.

click on BitLocker drive encryption

In the BitLocker window, locate the Removable data drives – BitLocker To Go section. This section will list all the external drives (removable drives) connected to your device. Click on the external drive that you want to encrypt, then click on the Turn on BitLocker option.

click turn on BitLocker to encrypt external drive

Select the Use a password to unlock the drive checkbox, and type your password in the available fields, and click Next. The password should contain uppercase and lowercase letters, special characters, and numbers.

set BitLocker password

Now, BitLocker will ask where you want to save the recovery key. A recovery key helps you recover the BitLocker encrypted drive if you forget the password. You have two options: Save to a file or Save to your Microsoft account. I recommend saving the recovery key to your Microsoft account for easier retrieval and added security. If that’s not possible, choose to save it to a file. Make sure to save the recovery key file in a safe location separate from the encrypted drive and where only you can access. Click Next after saving the recovery key.

save recovery key

Choose the Encrypt used disk space only option and click Next.

select encrypt used disk space option

Choose the Compatible mode option and click Next. This ensures that your drive will work even when you plug it in older Windows versions such as XP and 7.

select compatible mode

Finally, click the Start encrypting button.

click start encrypting

The above action starts the drive encryption process, which will take some time to complete. While the drive is being encrypted, don’t unplug it or turn off your system. Doing so may cause data loss.

encryption in progress

Once completed, you will see a message stating Encryption of H: is complete. Click the Close button.

encryption complete message

And there you have it. You’ve successfully encrypted an external drive using BitLocker. From now on, you need the BitLocker password to open the drive. Without the password, no one can access or read the drive’s content.

If you don’t want to use BitLocker in the future, you can turn off BitLocker on the external hard drive to permanently decrypt the drive.

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