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Secure Your Data: The Importance of Encrypting External Storage Devices

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Exploring the Benefits and Risks of Encrypting Your External Storage Devices 

In the IT world, a common question is, "Should you encrypt an external drive?". To answer this, the short answer is yes, you should encrypt your external drives. Any external drive that contains sensitive or company information needs to be encrypted for security.  

USB flash drives and external drives have become quite small nowadays, some even smaller than a quarter. Since they have gotten so small, they have become very easy to lose or misplace. For thieves, it’s not very easy to steal an entire computer or open a desktop and take the hard drive out without someone noticing. However, think about how easy it can be for someone to take a USB flash drive, or a small external drive from your desk, car, or home without you even realizing it for hours or even days.  

In any event, you do not want the data on these external drives to be accessible to anyone that is not authorized to access it. Let’s dive deeper into this topic by talking about what encryption is, how to encrypt a drive, and why it is important. 

The Fundamentals of Encryption: How It Works and Why It's Essential for Securing Your External Storage Data. 

Encryption is when data is scrambled so only allowed parties can view the information. It takes a normal plain text item like “Hello” and converts it into what is called a ciphertext, such as “x$44G”. Encryption uses a key to decrypt the item so that it can be viewed. Without a “key” you would have no idea when seeing that phrase, that it means “Hello.” This is a very basic example of encryption, and truly secure encryption will use very complicated phrases and keys in order to encrypt and decrypt the information. 

Protecting Your Privacy: Understanding Which Data to Encrypt on External Storage Devices 

Any data that contains personally identifiable information, or any confidential business intellectual property should be encrypted for protection. In short, any data that you would not want a thief to be able to easily access or steal will need to be encrypted. Once a drive is encrypted it requires authorization to access it, such as a password or startup key to unlock the drive.  

Locking Up Your Data: A Beginner's Guide to Encrypting External Drives 

There are numerous paid software programs that can encrypt hard drives for you, however the one we recommend is built into Windows 10 Pro and Windows 11 Pro called BitLocker. By navigating to your drive-in file explorer, you can right-click on the drive to turn on BitLocker. A window will open providing two options to choose how you want to unlock the drive. In this example, we will use a password. Select the checkbox “Use a password to unlock the drive” and set the password. We recommend storing this password in a password manager. For more information on password management check out our blog A Beginner's Guide to Password Management. The next screen will provide you with a recovery key should you forget your password. Note that Windows will not allow you to continue unless you save or print this recovery key. You will need to choose whichever method works best for you and continue. On the following screen we recommend you encrypt the entire drive if the drive has already been in use for a while. If it is a new drive, or it has only been used for a short period of time, you can encrypt only the data being used to save time. Depending on the size of the drive and amount of data on the drive, encryption can take a long time. Be sure not to unplug the drive or power off the machine during encryption as it could corrupt the drive. Once completed your drive will be encrypted. 

The Significance of Encryption in Today's Digital Age and How It Safeguards Your Data on External Storage Devices. 

There are many reasons why encryption is important but for this article, we will stick to the four biggest reasons… Privacy, Security, Data Integrity, and Regulations.  

  • Privacy – Encryption ensures that only the rightful owner or those granted access to the data can view it. 
  • Security – If a device is lost or stolen, encryption prevents the drive from being accessed by an unauthorized party. 
  • Data Integrity – When sending data or files to a recipient, encryption ensures that the data is not viewed or tampered with by a third party in transit. 
  • Regulations – Many industry and government regulations require certain data to be encrypted for handling user/patient data by law. 

Now that you know the importance of encryption, you can see why it is so important to encrypt your external drives. Whether the drive is stolen or simply misplaced, you never want sensitive data to end up in the wrong hands.  

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About the AuthorDerek Bock

Derek has a passion for working with people and helping them solve problems. With 15+ years of customer service experience and troubleshooting iOS, Mac, and Windows PC. He maintains procedures and provides technical support to entire organizations.