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How to Encrypt Your PC with Windows 8 BitLocker

The Windows 8 BitLocker feature scrambles the contents of your PC’s hard drive. Then it quickly unscrambles it whenever you enter your user account’s password. Why bother? It’s a precaution against your information falling into the hands of thieves. If they steal your PC or even its hard drive, they won’t be able to access your data, and its stash of passwords, credit-card numbers, and other personal information.

Unfortunately, BitLocker provides more protection than most people need. It’s difficult for non-techies to set up, and if you ever lose your password, you’ve lost all your data, as well. BitLocker also requires your PC to be set up in a special way, with an extra partition — a separate storage area — on your hard drive.

If you’re interested in BitLocker, take your PC to your office’s information technology person and ask for help and advice on setting it up. Or, as a start, set up BitLocker on a portable flash drive, and keep your sensitive files on that. Because many flash drives live in pockets and keychains, they’re much more likely to fall into a stranger’s hands.

If you’re comfortable using your flash drive only on PCs running Windows 8, Windows 7, or Windows Vista, follow these steps to encrypt your flash drive with BitLocker:

  1. Insert your flash drive into your PC’s USB port, open File Explorer from the Desktop, and navigate to your flash drive’s icon.

  2. Right-click the drive’s icon and choose Turn On BitLocker from the pop-up menu.

  3. When the BitLocker Drive Encryption window appears, click the Use a Password to Unlock the Drive check box, enter a password, and click Next.

    The program offers tips for choosing a strong password. When you click next, the window asks how you want to back up your recovery key.

  4. Click the Print the Recovery Key option and click Next.

    This important step prints a sequence of characters to type in should you lose your password. Alternatively, you can save the recovery key to a file or SkyDrive.

  5. Click the Encrypt Used Disk Space Only (best for larger drives) option, or the Encrypt Entire Drive (best for smaller drives) option. Then click Next.

  6. Click the Start Encrypting button.

The next time you insert your flash drive into a PC running Windows 8, Windows 7, or Windows Vista, you — or the thief — must enter the password entered in Step 3, or the drive’s contents will stay encrypted and inaccessible.

Drives encrypted with BitLocker can’t be opened on any Apple computers or PCs running Windows XP or earlier Windows versions.

For more information about Windows 8 and its features, explore Windows 8 For Dummies, available online.

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