How to Encrypt a Portable Hard Drive

This Tutorial addresses:
  • Bitlocker
  • Portable Hard Drive
In Windows you can encrypt a single file or an entire folder containing multiple files with the help of the built-in encryption feature as long as drive is formatted for NTFS. Encrypting the entire hard disk drive requires a completely different process.

Even though there are several third-party applications available that help you encrypt portable hard disk drives, if you are using Windows Vista or later, it is always recommended to use the built-in tool named BitLocker to get the job done. BitLocker is secure, and most importantly, does not require any additional investment.

Note: BitLocker is only available in some flavors of Windows Vista/7/8/8.1 operating systems that are meant to be used professionally. The versions developed for home users (such as Windows Vista/7/8 Home/Home Premium/Starter, etc.) do not have the BitLocker tool.

Here is how you can use BitLocker to encrypt your portable hard drive:

  1. Log on to your Windows PC with any administrator account and go to the desktop window. (E.g. Windows 8 in this demonstration)
  2. Ensure that you have connected the portable hard drive to your computer via USB cable.
  3. Open This PC by double-clicking its icon on the desktop.
  4. On the next window, from the right pane under the Devices and drives section, locate and right-click the icon of the external hard drive that you want to encrypt (assuming that there is a single partition for the entire hard drive).
  5. From the displayed list, click the Turn on BitLocker option.

    Note: Wait till the BitLocker initializes the hard drive.
  6. Once done, check the checkbox representing the option that you want to use to protect your hard drive. (E.g. Use a password to unlock the drive in this demonstration.)

  7. On the next interface, click to select the location where you want to save your recovery key. (i.e. Save to your Microsoft account, Save to a file, or print the recovery key.)
  8. Click Save from Save BitLocker recovery key as snap-in.


    Note: Recovery key is a backup key that you can use to access your hard drive in case you forget or lose your password or smart card.
  9. Once you have saved your recovery key, click Next to continue.
  10. Once the Choose how much of your drive to encrypt interface comes up, click to select the Encrypt used disk space only (faster and best for new PCs and drives) radio button.

  11. From the next window, click the Start Encrypting button from the bottom to continue the encryption.

  12. On the BitLocker Drive Encryption popup box, wait until the process is completed.


  • Once the processing is done, your external hard drive gets locked. Whenever you want to access your drive, you must provide the correct password to unlock the drive.
    Note: Once your portable hard drive is encrypted using BitLocker, you can only use the drive on the PC using which you have encrypted the drive, and only by providing the correct unlock password.
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