FreeOTFE Encrypts Files On Hard Drives, CD and USB Sticks

Stefan Neagu 05-04-2009

These days, every one of use carries portable media like USB sticks, memory cards and optical media; it’s extremely easy to lose a device the size of your thumb and the consequences can be dire, especially if it sensitive corporate data. This also applies to more common situations; you could lose your dissertation or photos of your family. You can easily eliminate this threat by using encryption software.



FreeOTFE, is freeware file encryption software, which has its source code freely available. Its name comes from  “˜On The Fly Encryption’, a procedure which automatically encrypts and decrypts information at the user’s demand, without the need for interaction with the application which manages the encryption layer “˜transparently’.

The main purpose of FreeOTFE is that it lets you create so called voumes/disks which operate exactly like a normal disk, with the exception that anything written to one of them is encrypted before being stored on your computer’s hard drive. No one except you can open and view those files. In order for someone to read the files on those encrypted volumes in the future the person will need to use FreeOTFE and know the password.

First released in 2004 by Sean Dean, FreeOTFE has an easy to use interface complete with a step-by-step wizard that helps you select settings for your encrypted volume, as well as a portable mode, which means you can access your encrypted files at any computer.

How To Use FreeOTFE To Hide and Encrypt Data

Creating a new encrypted volume is very simple.


If you’re not familiar with encryption modes and their respective abbreviations, you just need to select New and then click on Next.

freeotf wizard 1

Next specify whether the new volume should be created as a disk image file stored on your filesystem, or take up a disk partition/entire physical disk. For beginner users it’s recommended to go with disk image file stored on your filesystem option.

freeotf wizard 2


In the next steps you will be asked to select a size and a password for your volume file along with some other options that you can leave on default settings.

freeotf wizard 32

Finally, check everything and click on the Finish button to complete the wizard. At this point you will get your encrypted volume where you can add the files. The volume file has .vol extension and stored in the location indicated durng the volume setup wizard.

When you have created your first volume, FreeOTFE will automatically mount it as a disk on your PC, and you’ll be able to copy and remove files just like another hard drive. You should find it under ‘My Computer’.



Please note that you need to format it (via right-click menu) before you can open it and move the files there for the first time.

freeotf wizard 4

Once the volume is formatted you can start moving the files there. When you’re done, open the FreeOTFE and select the ‘Dismount’ option to hide the disk/volume. This will remove the volume from ‘My Computer’.


freeotf wizard dismount

After you finished working with the files and dismounted the volume, you can copy that newly created volume file to any media, a CD, a USB stick, or a memory card and carry it with you wherever you go.

Whenever you want to access or edit files on the encrypted volume you will need FreeOTFE (or similar encryption program) and a password that you provided during the volume setup wizard. First open the FreeOTFE, then click on Mount, select the encrypted volume (.vol file) and enter the password. This will mount the file as a drive and add it to ‘My Computer’ window. (Note: Make sure to dismount the volume when you are done working with it)

You can also copy a portable version of FreeOTFE (from Tools> Copy FreeOTFE to USB drive) to access the files from a computer which doesn’t have FreeOTFE or another decryption program.


When you carry those encrypted volumes on a USB drive or a CD, you also have an option to open/mount volumes in read-only mode, which means your files won’t get infected if the computer you’re working on has malware.

Here are some of the most important aspects of FreeOTFE:

  • Hash algorithms: MD5, SHA-512, RIPEMD-160, Tiger and more.
  • Ciphers: AES (256 bit), Twofish (256 bit), Blowfish (448 bit), Serpent (256 bit) and more.
  • Cipher modes supported include XTS, LRW and CBC.
  • Windows Mobile compatibility.
  • Create standalone encrypted volumes or encrypt whole partitions/disks.

At the moment, the safest encryption mode is XTS, and I strongly recommend you use it instead of the others if you have very sensitive data, like social security numbers or bank account details.

The XTS proof yields strong security guarantees as long as the same key is not used to encrypt much more than 1 terabyte of data. –IEEE P1619

FreeOTFE is in many ways similar to True Crypt, which Mark O’Neil covered Encrypt Your USB Stick With Truecrypt 6.0 Read More in detail. For more advanced users, there’s the IronKey, an USB stick built with security in mind.

I’d like to hear your experiences using encryption software and scenarios when encryption proved valuable.

You can save the extracted program on your hard drive and copy FreeOTFE afterwards to a CD using a burning application.

Related topics: Encryption, Portable App.

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  1. shane
    November 11, 2016 at 8:19 am

    is this page still active, trying to find info on removing encrypted partitions created with freeotfe. i dont want to lose 100gb off my drive. partition is empty and u used now, and doesnt show on disc management for win7 64bit.

    how to i remove the partition and return the space back to the hard drive total???

  2. Rich
    November 13, 2009 at 5:01 pm

    Does FreeOTFE run on Win 7?

    • Rich
      November 13, 2009 at 5:04 pm

      Does FreeOTFE run on Win 7?
      Can you right click on a folder or file and encrypt it?

    • Mike
      November 30, 2009 at 5:57 am

      Yes - FreeOTFE *DOES* work on Windows 7!

  3. Encryption Software
    October 19, 2009 at 2:33 pm

    I like FreeOTFE because I finally feel comfortable putting financial information on a USB stick. For taxes, I used to have to fax my accountant all the necessary forms, which was stressful for both of us. But now I encrypt a USB drive with all the necessary paperwork, tell him the password, and drop it off. It has saved us both a lot of time and energy.

  4. Shreela
    May 23, 2009 at 7:18 pm

    I am able to run portable programs from the inside of a TrueCrypt volume. But since I'd require admin rights, I'm still looking for a different program that doesn't require admin rights.

    I installed FreeOTFE *Explorer* onto my USB, since according to my understanding of FreeOTFE's site, only the Explorer version doesn't require admin rights on a pc without FreeOTFE installed.

    While I am able to mount my FreeOTFE volume from the USB without problem, I'm not able to run a program from it - I tried a portable on-screen keyboard program, and an fSekrit encrypted text which is stored as an exe.

    Does anyone know of a portable encrypted volume program that can run portable apps, that also doesn't require admin rights?

    • Melchey
      October 22, 2009 at 2:08 pm

      Add me to this as well. So far all I have found require local Admin rights, FreeOTFE and TrueCrypt which TBH is rubbish for a USB key (except FreeOFTE Explorer - but then you can't "run" the files from within the Encrypted Archive..

  5. cybermaven
    April 14, 2009 at 5:20 pm

    TrueCrypt and AxCrypt have been my standard for years. But I agree with Pablo, if you do not have admin rights to your machine FreeOFTE seems like a great way to go. I'll be testing this one out to recommend to others. Thanks Stefan!

  6. Pablo
    April 7, 2009 at 2:47 pm

    I've been using TrueCrypt for many years and it has always worked properly, it’s a great portable application, but one of its limitations is that you need administrator privileges on the computer running TrueCrypt, something that sometimes is not possible in everyplace. FreeOFTE is an excellent alternative to TrueCrypt for portable use because you don't need to have administrator rights on the computer running the application.
    Thank you for the FreeOFTE review.
    Pablo. Buenos Aires. ARGENTINA

  7. Abhijeet Pathak
    April 7, 2009 at 12:47 am

    I really like TrueCrypt, and its dependable. I mean it is being actively developed for years. And it has many advanced features like Hidden Volumes, Whole Drive Encryption etc. and supports many OSes, therefore created volume can be opened in other OS.

  8. Ed
    April 6, 2009 at 3:50 pm

    Hi Stephan,
    Thanks for this research and also the great how-to, I'm going to let our customers know about your post and about this software!

    We've been telling people about Portable Apps and how useful that is for USB drives, but the encryption software will be really great for a lot of people too as security becomes more of a concern.


  9. Joe
    April 6, 2009 at 3:19 am

    The great thing about FreeOTFE is that it supports LUKS, which is natively supported on most recent Linux distros, and I believe is also supported on Mac.

    I mostly use Linux, so I have a LUKS-encrypted partition on my USB drive which is recognised by Gnome and KDE. If I ever need to access it on Windows, I keep a copy of the portable version of FreeOTFE in an unencrypted partition on the same USB drive.

    It works way better than TrueCrypt for me.

  10. fe
    April 5, 2009 at 10:10 pm

    I really like axcrypt because of right-click integration but is there something as quick that would cross platforms and work for macs? Thanks so much

    • Stefan Neagu
      April 6, 2009 at 12:22 am

      TrueCrypt is free open-source disk encryption software for Windows, Mac OS X and Linux.

  11. SebMcK
    April 5, 2009 at 9:40 pm

    Which do you recommend is beter? Truecrypt or FreeOTFE?

    • Stefan Neagu
      April 6, 2009 at 12:21 am

      TrueCrypt seems to be more frequently updated, but they share about the same functionality. I say go for TrueCrypt for now.