Encrypt Your USB Stick With Truecrypt 6.0

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Last year I wrote an article on the benefits of encrypting your PC folders with Truecrypt and I also briefly touched on being able to encrypt your USB stick with Truecrypt. Well, the other day I received a nice new 2GB USB stick as a freebie and so I decided to install John Haller’s Portable Apps on it. But first I headed on over to the Truecrypt website to install the newly updated 6.0 encryption program.

Encryption is absolutely essential, especially if you’re the kind of person that carries their USB stick around as if it’s your car keys or your lipstick. USB sticks are so small that they are easily lost and they are also easily stolen. Just think of all the information that gets stored on one of these things. The British Ministry of Defence has lost 131 of them since 2004! A friend of mine constantly drops his in the street when he walks his dog and his dog keeps walking back to pick it up! So it definately pays to take the time and have encryption.

Also, look at it this way. If someone found your USB stick and it was unencrypted, they would have access to your Firefox browser (with access to your private bookmarks, including online banking), your private files, your portable FTP program (with the settings to your website), passwords, emails, IM contacts and much more. If the person was honest, it might not be so bad, but if the person wasn’t honest….well then it could be catastrophic for you. Identity theft would only be the start of your problems.

The only problem with using Truecrypt for your encryption though is that you need to have administrator privileges on the computer in which you’re plugging your encrypted USB stick into. So this would be no good for internet cafes for example. This would only be good if you were travelling between multiple trusted personal and work computers and you wanted insurance against theft or loss while travelling around.

OK, let’s get insured.

Step One – Download Truecrypt 6.0

The obvious first step. Head on over and download the encryption program. BUT since you are putting this on your USB stick, you do NOT install this anywhere. When you double-click the “exe” file, you will see this. Choose the second option. This will just unpack the files onto your computer and not install anything.

When the files are unpacked, move the whole lot over to your USB stick. Once they are sitting on your USB stick, again don’t install anything. Just leave them there.

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Step Two – Turn Truecrypt Into “Traveller Mode”

In your USB stick folder, double-click the “Truecrypt.exe” file and this opens up the main screen. Go to “tools” then “traveler disk setup”. That brings up this :

Traveller Mode

Change “create traveler disk files at” to whichever PC drive you have your USB stick in at the moment. Have the box underneath ticked. As to the Autorun configuration, well that’s down to personal preference so you decide. When you’ve done everything, press create. You’ll get a message a few moments later telling you that the traveler mode has been successfully created.

Step Three – Move Your Desired Programs Into Your USB stick

Now move your desired programs and files into your USB stick. As I said, I decided to put John Haller’s excellent PortableApps onto my USB stick. So I downloaded and moved all of them onto the USB stick next to the Truecrypt program as well as some documents. Notice we haven’t encrypted anything yet. That comes next.

Step Four – Create An Encrypted Area

OK, now we’re going to do the encryption. Go to the Truecrypt folder in your USB stick and double-click “Truecrypt Format.exe”. That brings up this screen.

Choose “create a file container” and follow these instructions from step 3 to make an encrypted container. I’m not going to go through it all here as it’s a long process. One important point though – do NOT fill up the whole USB stick. I would only make a container that fills up at most 75% of your USB stick. Leave the rest free and unencrypted. It’s always good to have some free space.

Before anybody points out option 2 which encrypts the entire USB stick, everyone I have talked to about this recommends that this shouldn’t be done because undoing it later is tricky and it can potentially mess up your USB drive. Doing it my way is better because a) you have some free space left for unencrypted files and b) if you don’t want Truecrypt anymore, you can just delete the whole lot. Much easier.

Step Five – Move The Programs Into The Encrypted Area

Once the encrypted container has been made, you will then have three things sitting in your USB stick – the folder with your programs / files, the folder with the Truecrypt application and the encrypted container you have just made. Now what you are going to do is move your programs and files INSIDE the encrypted container.

You do this by double-clicking “Truecrypt.exe” and “mounting” (choosing) on another drive, the encrypted container you have just made. This opens it up and unencrypts it. When it opens up, just drag your files and programs inside with your mouse. When you’re done, just dismount the container which closes it back up again and heavily encrypts it. No-one can get inside now without knowing the password. So I hope you chose a very good password!

Don’t forget to delete the programs and files which are sitting outside the encrypted container – the ones you just dragged inside the container are copies. If it reassures you, mount the container again, open it up and peek inside. You’ll see your files and apps inside all safe and sound.

Step Six – In Summary

So let’s recap what we’ve done here. We haven’t encrypted the whole USB stick. All we’ve done is put an encrypted container on the USB stick along with the Truecrypt encryption program to encrypt and unencrypt your files. If anyone was to steal the USB stick or find it (if you dropped it), all they would find on the drive would be an encrypted container which, without the password, is absolutely useless and unbreakable.

You also might want to put (on the unencrypted part of the drive) a text file with your name, email address and phone number so if a Good Samaritan were to come along, they would have a chance to do the right thing and return your property to you. A little incentive could also be mentioned depending on how desperate you are to get your property back.

Do you like to use any other encryption programs other than Truecrypt? What particular USB stick protection and detection methods have worked for you? Let’s hear about them in the comments!

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Comments (44)
  • captainjimkirk

    It is possible to do without admin rights or having the software installed on the PC. You just need to create a shortcut with elevated rights that points to the encrypted container on the USB. Ref:-

    http://geekknowhow.com/page_1264859152229.html

  • Inquiring Mind wants to know

    This may get deleted- but reading this discussion made me do a new search for password protection of external devices and I found this for USB Secure. I am a consultant.. not assoicated with ANY company and have been seeking encryption & password protection solutions for my clients business data.

    USB Secure can password protect your USB drives. Protection is PC independent, doesn’t require installation and doesn’t require administrator rights at the other end. USB Secure works with all types of portable media like USB Flash drives, Thumb drives, Memory sticks, External drives and Memory Cards.

    4.5 stars on CNET – free trial only 30 USD- I will try it in addition to the TrueCrypts!

  • Inquiring Mind wants to know

    Using TrueCrypt on 2 1TB External back-up drives & love it.
    I setup up 930 GB for backups and 1 GB for utilities (IT Admin) for a client.

    I am seeking a way to secure the crypts (if not the entire drive via password) from access or deletion by a clueless user or if the external drive were stolen or “lost & found” while in transit… smile.

    -I have a REWARD.txt to encourage finder to return.. however- I fear a “finder” may delete the crypt and use the drive. I am thinking if they cannot delete the crypt to use the drive- then they may seek the “no questions asked reward” and all data returned in good order.

    Thanks for a great discussion and all for any helpful suggestions!

  • Kirk

    @name:
    format it the stick NTFS. Windows won’t format anything over 4GB using Fat32 (really an obsolete file system).

    +1 for rohos. Great app, simple, no admin hassles. Truecrypt good for home/office machine but it’s not coded with portability in mind. Don’t get me wrong, there are ways to make it “portable”, just not at the level of other crypto software out there.

    Nice write-up nonetheless.

  • name

    I got a 8 gb usb stick. The problem is I can only create 4 GB files in it. thefore I have to use 2 containers to get it to work. Is there a way I wouldn’t have to split my container?

    • jimmy

      to the last poster, NTFS should fix your problem

    • name

      Yes but the truecrypt guide says that most of the drive goes to waste. I can’t place a video file larger than 4 GB in the usb stick.

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Affiliate Disclamer

This review may contain affiliate links, which pays us a small compensation if you do decide to make a purchase based on our recommendation. Our judgement is in no way biased, and our recommendations are always based on the merits of the items.

For more details, please read our disclosure.