With the growing popularity of external solid state drives (SSDs) for extra storage and portability, many users want to know how to lock or password protect files on these devices. Locking sensitive files on an external SSD adds an important layer of security in case the drive is ever lost or stolen. Thankfully, there are a few different ways to go about file locking for external SSDs on Windows and Mac OS.
Why Should I Lock Files on My External SSD?
There are a few key reasons you may want to lock down files on a portable external SSD:
- Protect private or sensitive data – Financial documents, tax records, personal photos/videos, etc.
- Prevent unauthorized access if device is lost or stolen
- Share SSD safely without worrying about others accessing private files
- Maintain control over who can view, edit, delete files
- Encryption protects data if SSD is physically damaged/unusable
Since external SSDs are small and highly portable, they can be easily misplaced or taken. But with drive encryption or file passwords enabled, you don’t have to worry about someone easily gaining access to your data. File locking gives you more control over your sensitive information.
Windows File Locking Options for External SSDs
For Windows users, there are built-in options like BitLocker as well as third party software to lock files on an external SSD. Here are some top choices:
Use BitLocker Drive Encryption
BitLocker is Microsoft’s own drive encryption tool included in certain versions of Windows. With BitLocker, you can encrypt the entire external SSD drive. The drive will then require a password or other form of authentication each time it is plugged into a computer.
To use BitLocker:
- Plug your external SSD into a Windows PC
- Open Control Panel > System and Security > BitLocker Drive Encryption
- Click “Turn on BitLocker” and follow the on-screen instructions to setup encryption
- Choose a strong password or consider using a smart card or USB drive for two-factor authentication
- BitLocker will encrypt the entire drive in the background
The downside to BitLocker is that it requires a specific version of Windows to work. It also encrypts the entire drive rather than giving you flexibility to choose individual files to lock down.
Use VeraCrypt Container Encryption
VeraCrypt is a popular free and open source disk encryption tool. It works across Windows, Mac OS, and Linux. With VeraCrypt you have a few options for encrypting your external SSD.
You can create an encrypted VeraCrypt volume on your drive. This encrypts a portion or the full storage space. Or you can selectively encrypt specific files/folders on the SSD by putting them into a VeraCrypt container.
Encrypted volumes or containers will prompt you for a password each time you connect the external SSD and try to access them. VeraCrypt provides strong AES and other encryption algorithms.
Using VeraCrypt containers gives you more flexibility, since you can choose which files are actually encrypted instead of the full drive. However, a downside is you must manually put files into the container to secure them.
Use Third-Party Software with File Encryption
If you want to easily encrypt specific files and folders on your external SSD, there are dedicated third party apps that can do this:
- Boxcryptor – Encrypts files and folders on Windows, Mac OS, and mobile. Integrates with cloud storage services like Dropbox.
- AxCrypt – Free Windows encryption tool that integrates with File Explorer.
- AES Crypt – Open source file encryption for Windows, Linux and Mac OS.
- Windows EFS – Built-in Encrypting File System can selectively lock files using Advanced Attributes.
The advantage of these tools is that it’s easy to encrypt only the sensitive files you want locked down. They operate seamlessly in the background to encrypt. The downside is that you may have to purchase the software or pro versions to get all features.
Mac File Encryption Options for External SSDs
For Apple MacBooks and iMacs, you also have built-in and third party choices to handle file encryption:
Use Disk Utility to Create Encrypted Volumes
Disk Utility is included with Mac OS and provides options for full disk encryption or creating encrypted volume images on your external SSD.
To use FileVault full disk encryption:
- Plug in the external SSD and launch Disk Utility
- Select the disk and click “Enable Encryption” in the toolbar
- Provide a password to use when connecting the encrypted SSD
To create an encrypted volume image:
- In Disk Utility, click File > New Image > Image from Folder/Device
- Select your external SSD and choose encryption
- Provide a password and secure the .dmg image file however you want
This gives you an encrypted volume that works just like an external drive when mounted, prompting for the password.
Use VeraCrypt for Containers
As mentioned above, VeraCrypt is cross-platform. On Mac OS, you can use it to create encrypted container files or volumes on your external SSD.
VeraCrypt integrates directly with Finder for convenient access to your encrypted files.
Use Third-Party File Encryption Tools
There are also third party Mac apps that can selectively encrypt files:
- Boxcryptor – Encrypts files and integrates across Mac, Windows, mobile.
- Knox – Paid Mac app that encrypts files and folders.
- AES Crypt – Open source file encryption for Mac.
These types of apps make it easy to right-click and encrypt specific files with a password. Some also integrate cloud storage and offer cross-platform accessibility.
Other Ways to Lock External SSD Files
Beyond full disk and file encryption, there are a couple other options for securing files on an external SSD:
Password Protect the Entire SSD
Some external SSD makers offer their own software tools for password protecting the full drive when connected. For example, Samsung Portable SSDs can use Samsung Portable SSD Software for this.
Enabling password requirements provides basic protection that requires a PIN or password to mount the external SSD and access files.
Use Zip Archiving with Encryption
Another simple option is to put any sensitive files into an encrypted zip archive. Software like 7Zip, WinZip and WinRAR allow creating encrypted zip files.
You can use a zip archive’s password protection combined with encryption for secure portable storage of files. When needed, mount the zip archive by providing the password to access the contents.
Important Security Considerations
When securing your external SSD with any file and disk encryption methods, keep these security best practices in mind:
- Always use strong passwords of at least 8+ characters, combining upper/lowercase letters, numbers and symbols.
- Store your passwords in a secure password manager rather than an unencrypted text file.
- Enable two-factor authentication when available for encryption programs.
- Make backups of your encryption keys/recovery codes in case they are lost.
- Use different passwords for each encrypted volume or archive if using multiple.
- Periodically audit your encrypted volumes, checking for unauthorized changes.
Following these tips will help keep your encrypted files on an external SSD secure. Be sure to always properly eject the external SSD before disconnecting it from your computer to avoid data loss or corruption.
There are various straightforward methods to lock down and encrypt files on Windows and Mac computers. Both operating systems provide built-in disk encryption options like BitLocker and FileVault. Third party tools like VeraCrypt and Boxcryptor also make file-level encryption easy on external SSD storage.
Encrypting sensitive data on portable external SSDs provides an important additional layer of security while maintaining the convenience of these speedy drives. Just be sure to always remember the passwords and keep recovery options on hand. With proper encryption set up, you can confidently take sensitive data on the go without worrying about unauthorized access in case your external SSD ever gets lost or stolen.