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.
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 :
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!