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How To Encrypt Or Password Protect An External Hard Drive On Windows And Mac

External hard drives are designed to be portable. You can slip it easily into your handbag and carry it wherever you want. And so can someone who intends to steal the data from it. If someone wants to gain unauthorized access to your data, all they will need to do is connect it to any computer. If you regularly back up your data, there is a good chance you use external drives as your preferred storage. This is why it only makes sense to encrypt your drive and protect it with a strong password.

Thanks to the inbuilt and third-party encryption tools, you can easily password protect the external drives on Mac and Windows. An encrypted drive will always require a password for access. With a strong password, you can make sure no one gets hold of the data ever. In this guide, we will take a look at difference encryption methods for Mac and Windows. We will learn how to access encrypted external hard disks. Keep reading!

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Mac offers you two ways to encrypt and password protect the external hard drive with two different tools. But, thankfully, both these tools are built-in to Mac and you do not need to download any additional third-party application. The first method encrypts the external drive along with all the existing data on it. The second method formats the drive before encrypting it. Thus, drive backup may be required. Let’s take a look at both the methods one by one.

Method 1: Using the Finder File Manager

As already mentioned, this method encrypts the drive and all of its content. This is why a backup is not absolutely necessary. But, we would still recommend you to back up the content lest something go wrong during the process and you lose everything. Such a scenario is rare but we can never be too careful, especially when we have important, sensitive data on the drive.

Since this method encrypts all the data on the drive to password protect it, it may take a long time to complete depending upon the size of the data. If you have a big drive (say 2TB) with high data volume, it could take several hours to encrypt. This is why it is recommended that you leave it overnight for completion. Encryption process must not be interrupted.

Note: This method encrypts the entire drive. You cannot encrypt individual partitions if there are any.

Here are the steps to password protect your hard drive:

  1. Open the Finder on Mac. You will find the External Hard Drive in the ‘Devices’ section
  2. Right click on the External drive icon
  3. On the drop-down menu click  ‘Encrypt’ followed by the drive name
  4. A new window will open in which you will need to enter the desired password and verify it. It will also warn you that in case you forget the password you will not be able to retrieve any data from the external drive. You need to create a strong password, which no one can guess but you can remember easily. If required, note down the password and keep it somewhere safe. If you need help creating a good password, click the ‘Key’ icon next to the ‘Encryption Password’ field.
  5. Enter a ‘hint’ in the ‘Password Hint’ field. It is advisable not to make the password too obvious with the hint. The hint must help you easily remember the password you have set, but should not allow others to guess it. In fact, you may also use a hint completely unrelated to the password so as to confuse someone trying to break into the drive. Adding a hint is mandatory in order to proceed.
  6. Click ‘Encrypt Disk’ to start the encryption process

Mac will encrypt the disk in the background. You can continue working on your computer in the meanwhile.

DO NOT turn Mac off during the encryption process. This may render your drive completely useless.

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Method 2: With the Help of Disk Utility

This is a quicker method to encrypt your external hard drive. With this method, you don’t have to encrypt the entire external hard drive. You can encrypt individual partitions as well. This tool helps you create partitions too.

What we need to remember is that Disk Utility will erase the entire content of the drive before encrypting it. If you have any important data you cannot lose, make sure you take a backup. This method is usually used for the new drives with no data on it.

Since Disk Utility doesn’t encrypt your data, it is a lot faster. Here is what you need to do to password protect  your hard drive:

  1. Open the Disk Utility Tool. There are two ways to access it. You can look up for it in Spotlight. Just click the tool icon in the search results. Alternately, open Finder and navigate to Applications. Click Utilities and then select ‘Disk Utility’ tool from the list.
  2. You should be able to see your drive listed on the left pane under the ‘External’ section. Select the drive you wish to encrypt and password protect
  3. Click the ‘Erase’ button on the top bar in the middle (between Partition and Restore buttons)
  4. Give your drive a name on the new pop-up window
  5. Click Format drop-down and select the option ‘Mac OS Extended (Journaled, Encrypted)’
  6. Like before, enter a strong password that you can easily remember but difficult for others to guess. Verify your password by entering it again.
  7. Add a Password Hint like in Method 1. You can add a hint that helps you easily recall the password. Ensure that it doesn’t give away the password to others you don’t want to access your hard drive. Or, you can choose something completely unrelated to throw them off
  8. Click ‘Choose’ button on the bottom right

This will be all. Your hard drive is now encrypted and password protected.

How to Access your Password Protected Drive on Mac

This part is the easiest. Whether you used method 1 or method 2 to encrypt the drive, all you need to do is connect the external drive to your Mac computer and enter the password when prompted. Now click ‘Unlock’ to access the drive. You will be required to provide the password even before the drive is mounted.

If you’d like your Mac to remember the password so that you do not have to enter it every time the drive is connected to it, enter the password and check ‘Remember this password in my keychain’ before clicking ‘Unlock.’

When you connect the drive to your Mac the next time, password field will be populated. You will just need to click ‘Unlock.’ If you do not wish your Mac to remember the password the next time, uncheck ‘Remember this password in my keychain’ before clicking ‘Unlock.’

Even if you have checked ‘Remember this password in my keychain’ on your Mac, you will need to enter the password when you connect the drive to another Mac computer

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Microsoft Windows too has built-in tools to encrypt the external hard drive. But, these tools are only available with the Enterprise or Pro versions of Windows.  For the other versions, such as Home and Professional, you will need a third-party encryption application. In the following text, we will learn how to encrypt the external hard drive using a third-party tool. We will also take a look at the built-in method for Enterprise and Pro version of Windows.

Method 1: Encrypt With a Third-party Tool

There are plenty of third-party encryption software programs for Windows. We have tested a few and found VeraCrypt and DiskCryptor to be most reliable. Both these tools are free of cost. In this guide, we will use the VeraCrypt tool. Keep reading!

Download VeraCrypt: First of all, we need to download and install the VeraCrypt software. Visit the link and download the copy of the installer for Windows on your hard drive. Run the EXE file and follow the onscreen instructions to install the tool.

Encrypt External Hard Drive: Now that you have installed the encryption tool, you can start the process. It is pretty easy. Just make sure you follow each step carefully. Here is what you need to do:

  1. Launch VeraCrypt and plug the external hard drive into the computer
  2. Click on ‘Create Volume’ button on the VeraCrypt main interface
  3. A window will pop-up. Select ‘Encrypt a non-system partition/drive’. Now click ‘Next’
  4. Now select ‘Standard VeraCrypt’ volume on the next screen and press Next
  5. Click the option ‘select device’ on the next screen
  6. click ‘select device’ again on the pop-up
  7. Now select the name of the partition which appears under ‘Removable Disk’. Remember you need to select the name of the partition and not the name of the disk
  8. Now you will see two options on the screen:
    • Create encrypted volume and format it
    • Encrypt partition in place
  9. Choose one of the two options and click Next. The first option, ‘Create encrypted volume and format it’ will format the partition and erase all the data on your hard drive before encrypting it. It is the fastest way to encrypt and password protects the drive. But, you will lose all the data. Use this option only when you have taken the backup, you don’t care about the data loss, or your disk is already empty. If you wish to preserve and encrypt the data along with the partition, choose ‘Encrypt partition in place.’ This may take a long time depending upon the size of the data on the drive. In fact, it may take several hours. You may leave the disk overnight in such a case.
  10. Follow the series of onscreen instructions to complete the encryption process. You will be required to create the password on one of the screens

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How to Access Your Encrypted Drive

Now that you have password protected your drive, you will want to access it too at some point of time. Please note that the encrypted drive can only be accessed from the computer which has VeraCrypt installed. If you are using the drive on any other computer, make sure you first get VeraCrypt. It is free.

Here is how you can decrypt your hard drive and mount it:

  1. Open VeraCrypt and plug the drive into the computer
  2. Select any one of the drive letters from the list
  3. Click ‘Select Device’ button next to ‘Volume Tools…’
  4. Select the partition letter (and not the disk name; as you did earlier)
  5. Now click on the button labeled as ‘Mount’ on the bottom
  6. Enter the password you created while encrypting the drive
  7. Minimize the VeraCrypt Window
  8. Go to ‘My Computer’ (‘computer’ or ‘This PC’ on different Windows versions)
  9. Double click the drive letter you chose in Step 2 to access the external hard drive

Method 2: Using the Pro/Enterprise edition built-in tools

If you are using the Pro or Enterprise edition of Windows, you don’t need any third-party tool to encrypt your hard drive. You have an inbuilt tool at your disposal called BitLocker Drive Encryption.  Connect the drive to the computer and follow these steps to encrypt the external drive:

  1. Open Control Panel on your computer
  2. Select ‘System and Security’
  3. Open ‘BitLocker Drive Encryption’
  4. Select the external drive you wish to encrypt from the list
  5. Select ‘Turn on BitLocker’. This option is turned OFF by default for all the drives
  6. Select the checkbox next to ‘Use a password to unlock the drive’ to password protect the drive. Make sure you choose a strong password, but something you can easily remember. It must be difficult for others to guess.
  7. Click ‘Next’
  8. On the next screen, you can back up your recovery key. We highly recommend to back up the key so that you can recover the password if you forget it. Select one of the following options for backup:
    • Save to your Microsoft account
    • Save to a USB flash drive
    • Save to a file
    • Print the recovery key
  1. Click ‘Next’
  2. Now click the ‘Start Encrypting’ button to start the encryption process

The process will thus start. This method encrypts the drive and all of the data in it. This is why it may take several hours. The time taken largely depends upon the volume of the data on the drive.


Mac and Windows both allow you to password protect the computer and prevent unauthorized access to your data and personal information. Your hard drive is mounted inside the CPU packing and can only be accessed after providing the OS password. But, this is not the case with the external hard drives. Anyone can connect an unencrypted external hard disk to any computer and get hold of the data. This is why it is important to password protect the disk, especially if it contains important data. The methods above are effective and ensure that your disk remains protected from unwanted access.


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