How to Use BitLocker for Encryption on Removable Drives

By Ciprian Adrian Rusen

Encrypting a removable drive such as a USB memory stick doesn’t take long in Windows 10, and it involves fewer steps than encrypting the operating system drive. After the encryption process ends, each time you plug your device into a Windows computer, File Explorer shows the device with a lock icon, which signals that the device is encrypted. To access its content, you must enter the password set during the encryption process.

Encrypt a removable drive with BitLocker

To encrypt a USB memory stick or an external hard drive, follow these steps:

  1. In the search bar on the taskbar, type bitlocker.

    A list of search results appears.

  2. Click Manage BitLocker.

    The BitLocker Drive Encryption window appears.

  3. In the BitLocker Drive Encryption window, find the removable drive that you want to encrypt and click it.

    A list with options appears.

  4. Click the Turn on BitLocker button for that drive.

    Turning on BitLocker for a removable drive.

    Turning on BitLocker for a removable drive.

    You’re asked to choose how you want to unlock this drive.

  5. Select Use a Password to Unlock the Drive.

    The fields for entering the password and confirming it now are editable.

  6. Type the password in the appropriate fields; then click Next.

    How you want to unlock the removable drive.

    How you want to unlock the removable drive.

    You’re asked where you want to back up your recovery key.

  7. Click the option you prefer; then click Next.

    You’re asked to choose how much of your drive you want to encrypt and given two options: encrypt the used disk space only or encrypt the entire drive.

  8. Choose how much of your drive you want to encrypt and click Next.

    You’re asked whether you’re ready to encrypt the selected drive.

  9. Click Start Encrypting.

  10. When the encryption is done, click Close.

Unlock a removable drive that’s encrypted with BitLocker

Each time you plug the encrypted removable drive into a computer running Windows 10, a notification appears saying that the drive is BitLocker-protected. You can use that notification to unlock the drive at that time, or you can do so later and follow these steps:

  1. Open File Explorer.

  2. Click This PC.

    A list with your folders, devices, and drives appears.

  3. Double-click the removable drive.

    A BitLocker prompt appears asking for the password to unlock the drive.

  4. Type the password.

    Unlocking a BitLocker encrypted drive.

    Unlocking a BitLocker encrypted drive.
  5. Click Unlock.

  6. Double-click again on the removable drive in File Explorer to open it and see its contents.

  7. Close File Explorer when you finish using the removable drive.

Decrypt a BitLocker encrypted drive

The process for decrypting a BitLocker-protected drive is easy. First, unlock the drive by providing the appropriate encryption password and then follow these steps:

  1. In the search bar on the taskbar, type bitlocker.

    A list of search results appears.

  2. Click Manage BitLocker.

    The BitLocker Drive Encryption window appears.

  3. In the BitLocker Drive Encryption window that appears, find the drive that you want to decrypt and click the Turn Off BitLocker link.

    Decrypting a drive.

    Decrypting a drive.

    You receive a message saying that the drive will be decrypted.

  4. Click Turn Off BitLocker.

    The decryption process starts immediately.

  5. Close the BitLocker Drive Encryption window.

    You can resume using your computer.

The decryption process is the same for operating system drives and removable drives. To completely turn off BitLocker, you need to decrypt all drives using the decryption procedure.