How to Encrypt an External Hard Drive – Step-by-Step Guide

Updated on March 27, 2023
How to Encrypt an External Hard Drive – Step-by-Step Guide

The need for data security has become more crucial than ever before. External hard drives are popular for storing large amounts of data due to their portability and convenience. However, with the increase in cyber threats and data breaches, protecting the sensitive data stored on these drives is essential.

Encrypting an external hard drive is an effective way to protect sensitive data from unauthorized access, theft, and cyber attacks. Encryption scrambles the data on the drive and makes it unreadable without the correct encryption key or password. This ensures that even if the drive falls into the wrong hands, the data on it remains secure.

In this blog, we will guide you through the process of encrypting your external hard drive and discuss best practices for secure storage and backup. We will also cover the advantages and disadvantages of encryption and how to choose the right encryption method for your needs. So, let’s dive in and learn how to protect your valuable data with encryption.

What is encryption?

Encryption is a security measure that involves converting data into a coded form so that only authorized individuals can access and read it. Encryption involves using 1a unique algorithm or key to convert data into a scrambled format, making it unreadable and unintelligible to unauthorized individuals. Encrypted data can only be decrypted using the same key or algorithm used to encrypt it.

Encryption is important for protecting sensitive data, preventing unauthorized access, and ensuring online privacy and confidentiality.

Types of Encryption Methods

Encrypting an external hard drive is an important security measure to protect sensitive data from unauthorized access. There are several encryption methods available for encrypting an external hard drive. Here’s an overview of some of the most commonly used encryption methods:

Software-based Encryption

Software-based encryption is a method of encrypting data on an external hard drive using a software tool. This method is easy to use and typically does not require any additional hardware, making it a cost-effective option for users who want to protect their sensitive data. Software-based encryption works by converting the data on the hard drive into an unreadable format that can only be accessed with a decryption key or password.

There are several software tools available for software-based encryption of external hard drives. These tools typically offer a variety of encryption algorithms, such as AES or Blowfish, and can also provide additional security features, such as two-factor authentication or key management. Some common software tools for encrypting external hard drives include VeraCrypt, BitLocker, and DiskCryptor.

One of the main advantages of software-based encryption is its ease of use. Users can simply install the encryption software on their computer, connect the external hard drive, and follow the prompts to encrypt external hard drive. This makes it a great option for users who want to quickly encrypt their data without having to invest in additional hardware or technical expertise.

However, software-based encryption does have some drawbacks. One potential issue is the risk of software vulnerabilities, which can be exploited by attackers to bypass the encryption and access the data on the hard drive. Additionally, software-based encryption can be slower than other methods, especially when working with large amounts of data.

Software-based encryption is typically less secure than hardware-based encryption, as attackers can potentially gain access to the encryption key if they are able to compromise the computer or the software tool used to encrypt the data.

Hardware-based Encryption

Hardware-based encryption is a method of encrypting data on an external hard drive that utilizes a hardware encryption chip to provide high levels of security. This encryption method encrypts the data on the drive at the hardware level, ensuring that the data is secure and protected against attacks.

Hardware-based encryption is widely regarded as one of the most secure ways to encrypt an external hard drive and is commonly used in environments where security is a top priority.

The encryption chip used in hardware-based encryption is typically a dedicated processor that is built into the external hard drive. This processor is responsible for performing the encryption and decryption of the data on the drive and is designed to be highly resistant to attacks.

Because the encryption is performed at the hardware level, hardware-based encryption can provide faster performance and lower overhead compared to software-based encryption.

Hardware-based encryption is available in a variety of external hard drive products, including portable hard drives, desktop hard drives, and network-attached storage (NAS) devices. Some examples of hardware-based encryption technologies include Seagate Secure and Western Digital’s Self-Encrypting Drives (SEDs).

SEDs is an external hard drive that comes with a built-in encryption chip. SEDs are easy to use and provide strong protection against attacks such as cold boot attacks and brute force attacks. However, they can be more expensive than other types of external hard drives.

One of the main advantages of hardware-based encryption is its strong security. Because encryption is performed at the hardware level, it is much more difficult for attackers to bypass the encryption and access the data on the drive. Additionally, hardware-based encryption protects against cold boot attacks, which can be used to extract encryption keys from a computer’s memory.

However, hardware-based encryption does have some limitations. For example, it can be more expensive than software-based encryption, as it requires dedicated hardware components. Additionally, because the encryption is tied to specific hardware, it can be more difficult to migrate encrypted data to new devices or systems.

File-based encryption

File-based encryption is a method of encrypting individual files on an external hard drive, rather than encrypting the entire drive. This method is often used when users want to protect only specific files or folders on the drive rather than encrypting the entire drive.

File-based encryption works by encrypting each file or folder individually, using an encryption algorithm such as AES or Blowfish. The encryption key is then stored securely, typically in an encrypted form, and is used to decrypt the files when they are accessed. This method provides a high level of security for individual files but does not encrypt the entire drive or protect against attacks on the file system or other metadata.

Several software tools are available for file-based encryption of external hard drives, including programs such as Folder Lock and AxCrypt. These tools typically provide an easy-to-use interface that allows users to select the files or folders they want to encrypt and then apply the encryption using a simple process.

One of the main advantages of file-based encryption is its flexibility. Users can encrypt only the files they want to protect without having to encrypt the entire drive. This can be useful when only a few files contain sensitive information or when users need to share the external hard drive with others who do not require access to the encrypted files.

However, file-based encryption does have some limitations. One potential issue is the risk of user error, such as forgetting the encryption key or accidentally deleting encrypted files. Additionally, file-based encryption does not provide protection against attacks on the file system or other metadata, which can potentially compromise the security of the encrypted files.

Importance of encrypting an external hard drive

is essential for protecting sensitive data, meeting regulatory requirements, preventing identity theft, protecting against hacking, and providing peace of mind. Whether you are an individual or a business, taking steps to ensure the security of your external hard drives is a critical part of your overall data protection strategy.

Protecting sensitive data

External hard drives often contain sensitive data such as financial information, personal documents, and intellectual property. Encrypting the data on the external hard drive ensures that the sensitive information remains protected and inaccessible to unauthorized individuals even if the drive is lost or stolen.

Compliance with regulations

Many industries are subject to strict data protection regulations such as HIPAA, GDPR, and PCI-DSS. Encryption of external hard drives is often required to meet these regulatory requirements and avoid costly fines or legal penalties.

Prevention of identity theft: External hard drives may contain personally identifiable information such as social security numbers, addresses, and dates of birth. Encryption can prevent this information from falling into the wrong hands and being used for identity theft or fraud.

Protection against hacking

External hard drives are vulnerable to hacking attacks, particularly if they are connected to a compromised network or computer. Encryption can help prevent unauthorized access to the data on the drive, even if the drive is accessed by a malicious actor.

Peace of mind

Encrypting an external hard drive can provide peace of mind and ensure that sensitive data is protected from both physical and digital threats. This is particularly important for businesses, which may be liable for data breaches compromising customer or employee information.

Importance of choosing the right encryption method

is crucial when encrypting an external hard drive. The encryption method you choose can impact the level of security provided, the speed of encryption and decryption, and the ease of use of the encrypted drive. There are several key reasons why choosing the right encryption method is important:

Security

The primary reason for encrypting an external hard drive is to protect sensitive data from unauthorized access. Choosing a strong encryption method, such as AES or Twofish, can provide high security for your data. However, weaker encryption methods, such as DES or RC4, may be vulnerable to attacks and compromise the security of your data.

Performance

The encryption method you choose can impact the speed of encryption and decryption of your external hard drive. Some encryption methods may be faster than others, but may provide a different level of security. It is important to balance the need for speed with the need for security to choose the right encryption method for your specific use case.

Compatibility

The encryption method you choose must be compatible with your operating system, hardware, and other software tools you use. For example, some encryption methods may not be compatible with certain Windows or Mac OS versions or may require specific hardware components to work correctly.

Ease of use

Some encryption methods may be easier to use than others. Choosing an encryption method with a user-friendly interface and clear instructions can make the encryption process easier and reduce the risk of user error. Additionally, some encryption methods may allow for easy access and sharing of encrypted files, while others may require complex decryption processes.

Encrypting Your External Hard Drive

Encrypting an external hard drive can be straightforward, but the specific steps may differ depending on your operating system. Here are some general guidelines on how to encrypt an external hard drive on Windows, Mac, and Linux:

How to Encrypt an External Hard Drive on Windows

1)    Using BitLocker

Follow these steps to encrypt an external hard drive on Windows by using BitLocker:

  1. Connect your external hard drive to your Windows computer.
  1. Open File Explorer and locate your external hard drive.
  1. Right-click on the external hard drive and select “Turn on BitLocker.”
  1. Select how you want to unlock the drive. You can use a password, a smart card, or both.
  2. Choose where you want to save your recovery key. This key can be used to unlock your drive if you forget your password or lose your smart card. You can save the key to a file, print it, or save it to your Microsoft account.
  1. Select the encryption method you want to use. You can choose between the new XTS-AES encryption method or the older AES-CBC method. The XTS-AES method is more secure and faster but may only be compatible with some computers.
  2. Select whether you want to encrypt only the used space or the entire drive.
  1. Click “Start Encrypting” to begin the encryption process. This may take several hours, depending on the size of your drive and the speed of your computer.
  1. Once the encryption process is complete, you can safely eject your external hard drive and use it normally. When you connect the drive to your computer, you will be prompted to enter your password or enter your smart card to unlock it.

VeraCrypt

Encrypting your external hard drive with VeraCrypt is easy, but it seems lengthy. Follow these steps to get started:

  1. Download and install VeraCrypt from the official website (https://www.veracrypt.fr/en/Home.html).
  1. Connect your external hard drive to your Windows computer.
  1. Open VeraCrypt and click on “Create Volume” on the main screen.
  1. Click on “Encrypt a non-system partition/drive” and click “Next.”
  1. Select “Standard VeraCrypt volume” and click “Next.”
  1. Choose the drive letter corresponding to your external hard drive and click “Next.”
  1. Select the encryption algorithm and hash algorithm you want to use. The default settings are usually sufficient for most users, but you can adjust these settings if you want more security.
  1. Select the size of your encrypted volume. You can choose to use the entire drive or create a smaller encrypted partition.
  1. Set a strong password and click “Next.”
  1. Choose the file system you want to use for your encrypted volume. The default is usually NTFS, which is compatible with Windows, but you can choose another file system if you prefer.
  1. Choose whether you want to format the volume or create a volume without formatting. If you choose to format the volume, all data on the drive will be erased.
  1. Choose whether you want to use a keyfile. A keyfile is an additional security measure that can be used in conjunction with a password to unlock the encrypted volume.
  1. Click “Format” to begin the encryption process. This may take several hours, depending on the size of your drive and the speed of your computer.
  1. Once the encryption process is complete, you can safely eject your external hard drive and use it normally. Whenever you connect the drive to your computer, you will be prompted to enter your password or keyfile to unlock it.

DiskCryptor

Follow these steps to encrypt your data on your drive through DiskCryptor on Windows:

  1. Download and install DiskCryptor from the official website (https://diskcryptor.net/).
  1. Connect your external hard drive to your Windows computer.
  1. Open DiskCryptor and click on “Encrypt” on the main screen.
  1. Choose the drive letter corresponding to your external hard drive and click “OK.”
  1. Select the encryption algorithm you want to use. The default settings are usually sufficient for most users, but you can adjust these settings if you want more security.
  1. Choose the size of your encrypted volume. You can choose to use the entire drive or create a smaller encrypted partition.
  1. Choose a strong password and click “OK.”
  1. Click “Encrypt” to begin the encryption process. This may take several hours, depending on the size of your drive and the speed of your computer.
  1. Once the encryption process is complete, you can safely eject your external hard drive and use it normally. Whenever you connect the drive to your computer, you will be prompted to enter your password or keyfile to unlock it.

It is important to note that DiskCryptor is an open-source encryption software that may require some technical knowledge. If you are still getting familiar with encryption software or need clarification on the settings to use, it is recommended to seek assistance from a professional or use a more user-friendly encryption tool like VeraCrypt.

How to encrypt an external hard drive on Mac

Mac has a built-in encryption feature known as “FileVault.” t is important to note that the built-in encryption feature in Mac is generally reliable and user-friendly. Still, it may not provide as many customization options as other third-party encryption software. If you have specific encryption requirements, you may want to consider using a third-party encryption tool like VeraCrypt.

  1. Connect your external hard drive to your Mac.
  2. Open “System Preferences” from the Apple menu.
  3. Click on “Security & Privacy” and then click on the “FileVault” tab.
  4. Click on the padlock icon in the bottom left corner of the window to unlock the settings.
  5. Click “Turn On FileVault” and then “Continue.”
  6. Choose whether you want to use your iCloud account to unlock your disk, then click “Continue.”
  7. Create a recovery key that can be used to reset your password in case you forget it.
  8. Click on “Continue” and then choose whether you want to store the recovery key with Apple or create a personal recovery key.
  9. Click “Continue” and then “Restart” to begin the encryption process.
  10. Wait for your Mac to restart and begin the encryption process. This process can take several hours, depending on the size of your drive and the speed of your computer.
  11. Once the encryption process is complete, your external hard drive will be fully encrypted and ready to use.

How to encrypt an external hard drive on Linux

Follow these steps to encrypt an external hard drive on Linux using the built-in encryption feature called LUKS (Linux Unified Key Setup):

  1. Connect your external hard drive to your Linux computer.
  1. Open a terminal window and enter the following command to list the available disks and partitions:

    sudo fdisk -l
  1. Identify the external hard drive that you want to encrypt. The drive should be listed with a device name like “/dev/sdb”.
  2. Install LUKS by entering the following command:

    sudo apt-get install cryptsetup
  1. Create a new partition on the external hard drive using the “fdisk” command. Make sure to select the appropriate device name for your drive:

    sudo fdisk /dev/sdb
  1. Create a new encrypted partition using the “cryptsetup” command. Replace “sdb1” with the appropriate partition name for your drive:

    sudo cryptsetup luksFormat /dev/sdb1
  1. Enter “YES” to confirm that you want to proceed with the encryption process.
  1. Set up a passphrase that you will use to unlock the encrypted partition:

    sudo cryptsetup luksOpen /dev/sdb1 my_encrypted_drive


[Replace “my_encrypted_drive” with any name you want to use for the unlocked partition.]

  1. Create a new file system on the unlocked partition using the following command. Replace “my_encrypted_drive” with the name you used in step 8:

    sudo mkfs.ext4 /dev/mapper/my_encrypted_drive

  2. Create a mount point for the unlocked partition. For example, you can create a folder named “encrypted_drive” in your home directory:

    mkdir ~/encrypted_drive
  1. Mount the unlocked partition to the mount point:

    sudo mount /dev/mapper/my_encrypted_drive ~/encrypted_drive
  1. You can now use the encrypted external hard drive by accessing the “encrypted_drive” folder in your home directory. When you want to disconnect the drive, make sure to unmount it first:

sudo umount ~/encrypted_drive

Advantages and Disadvantages of Encrypting External Hard Drives

AdvantagesDisadvantages
Protects confidential data from unauthorized access, theft, or lossMay require additional software or hardware, depending on the operating system and encryption method
Can be used to comply with legal and industry-specific regulations that require data protectionCan slow down the performance of the external hard drive, especially during encryption and decryption
Provides peace of mind and reassurance that sensitive data is secureMay require a strong and unique password or passphrase that can be difficult to remember or manage
Can help prevent data breaches, identity theft, and other cyber attacksCan be challenging to recover data if the encryption key is lost or corrupted
Allows for safe and secure data transfer between computers or locationsMay not be effective against malware or other malicious software that can bypass or disable encryption
Offers an additional layer of security against physical theft or loss of the external hard drive 

Overall, the advantages of encrypting external hard drives generally outweigh the disadvantages as long as the encryption is properly implemented and managed.

Tips for safe and secure storage

  • Store your encrypted external hard drive in a secure location, such as a safe or locked cabinet.
  • Avoid leaving your external hard drive in a visible and accessible location, such as a desk or a car.
  • Consider using a carrying case or sleeve to protect your external hard drive from physical damage.
  • If you need to transport your external hard drive, use a trusted courier service or carry it with you in a secure bag or backpack.
  • Avoid using public Wi-Fi or unsecured networks when accessing your encrypted external hard drive remotely. Use AstrillVPN to protect yourself when connecting to a public Wi-Fi network.

How to Enhance the security of Your Encrypted External Hard Drive

A VPN can be used to enhance your encrypted external hard drive security in several ways:

Secure Remote Access

If you need to access your encrypted external hard drive remotely, AstrillVPN can create a secure and encrypted connection between your device and the external hard drive. AstrillVPN encrypts all internet traffic between your device and the VPN server, so any data transmitted between your device and the external hard drive is encrypted and secure. This can help prevent unauthorized individuals from intercepting your data or accessing your external hard drive.

Protection from Cyber Attacks

Astrill VPN protects your encrypted external hard drive from cyber attacks, such as malware or phishing attempts. By encrypting your internet traffic, AstrillVPN prevents attackers from intercepting your data or gaining access to your external hard drive. AstrillVPN offers additional security features, such as ad-blockers or whitelisting, which can further protect your device and external hard drive.

Anonymity and Privacy

If you are concerned about online privacy or want to remain anonymous while accessing your encrypted external hard drive, a VPN can help by masking your IP address and location. When you connect to a VPN server, your internet traffic is routed through the server, and your true IP address is hidden. This can make it more difficult for third parties to track your online activity or access your external hard drive.

It’s important to keep in mind that while AstrillVPN can enhance the security of your encrypted external hard drive, it is not a silver bullet solution. It’s still important to follow best practices for secure storage, such as using strong passwords and keeping your external hard drive in a secure location.

Why Data Backup is Essential before Encryption

Data backup is essential before encryption because once data is encrypted, it cannot be accessed without the correct encryption key or password. This means that if you lose or forget the encryption key or password, you will not be able to access your data.

Creating a backup of your data before encryption ensures that you have an accessible and unencrypted copy of your data in case you ever lose or forget the encryption key or password. This can also be useful in case your encrypted external hard drive is damaged or lost, as you will still have a copy of your data stored elsewhere.

Additionally, encrypting data can sometimes cause data loss or corruption if there are any errors or issues during the encryption process. By backing up your data before encryption, you can ensure that you have a copy of your data that has not been affected by the encryption process.

Conclusion

By following the tips and guidelines outlined in this blog, you can ensure that your encrypted external hard drive is secure and protected while also maintaining easy accessibility and usability. Remember to choose a strong encryption method, use reputable encryption software, back up your data before encryption, and securely store your encrypted external hard drive.

In addition, AstrillVPN can be used to enhance the security of your encrypted external hard drive by providing secure remote access, protection from cyber attacks, and anonymity and privacy.

By implementing these best practices and using a VPN if necessary, you can ensure that your encrypted external hard drive is secure and protected, providing you with peace of mind and confidence in your data protection efforts.

FAQs

Can an encrypted external hard drive be hacked?

An encrypted external hard drive can be hacked if the encryption method used is weak or if the encryption key or password is compromised. It’s important to choose a strong encryption method and to keep your encryption key or password secure.

How do I know if my external hard drive is encrypted?

If you need to check if your external hard drive is encrypted, you can check the settings or properties of the drive or consult the documentation that came with the drive or the encryption software used. In some cases, an encrypted external hard drive may prompt for a password or encryption key when connected to a device.

What is the disadvantage of encrypting a drive?

A disadvantage of encrypting a drive is that it can make data recovery more difficult or impossible if the encryption key or password is lost or forgotten. Additionally, encryption can cause a slight decrease in performance due to the added processing required for encryption and decryption.

How do I restrict access to my external hard drive?

You can restrict access to your external hard drive by using encryption, password protection, or access control settings. Encryption and password protection will prevent unauthorized access to the data on the drive, while access control settings can limit who can view, modify, or delete files on the drive. Additionally, physically securing the drive in a locked cabinet or safe can also restrict access to the drive.

About The Author

Arsalan Rathore

Arsalan Rathore is a tech geek who loves to pen down his thoughts and views on cybersecurity, technology innovation, entertainment, and social issues. He likes sharing his thoughts about the emerging tech trends in the market and also loves discussing online privacy issues.

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