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Encrypting USB memory sticks and drives

This information applies only to WBS staff who use a WBS-provided Windows computer. Mac users should see here.Click here for instructions on encrypting on an Apple Mac

As part of WBS’ preparations for the new GDPR data privacy legislation all external USB storage devices (memory sticks and hard drives) will need to be encrypted using Microsoft’s Bitlocker to Go. Rather than following the steps below you might like to consider not using USB memory sticks as all and moving to an online alternative such as files.warwick. If you need help with this please contact the WBS Helpdesk.

What is ‘Bitlocker to Go’?

‘Bitlocker to Go’ is a Microsoft technology that encrypts external USB devices such as Memory Sticks and External Hard Drives so that the data is safe even if you lose the memory stick.

What changes will I see?

The next time you plug in a USB memory stick or similar you will see a window like below:

Encrypt the drive if you need to save new information


It is best practice to backup all the information on the memory stick before encrypting. We have never found a problem in testing but there is always a small risk of a problem during the encryption process that could damage the files. If in doubt contact the WBS Helpdesk for advice.

This presents two options:

  • If all you need to do is read files from the memory stick then you can select ‘Don’t encrypt this drive’. You will then be able to open files on the drive but not save new ones. This option could be useful if you are in a hurry and don’t have time to encrypt the drive now.
  • To be able to use the USB memory stick as normal select the ‘Encrypt this drive’ option. Important: you can only complete this option if you are connected to the network at Warwick. If you try to complete this when your WBS computer is away from Warwick you will not be able to continue.

Enter a strong password when required and click Next. For tips on choosing a good password see

If you are offered the chance to Save your recovery key to a file ignore this and click Next. You will instead do this later in the process.

Choose next to start the encryption process.

Important: if the encryption is taking too long you can pause it by clicking the ‘Pause’ button. Ensure you do this before shutting the computer down or taking any other action that would interrupt the encryption process. The encryption process is complete when the progress windows closes.

Ensure you press Pause before interrupting the encryption process

The time taken to encrypt a drive depends on its size and how many files you have on the device. In testing, a regular USB memory stick (4GB in this case) took a couple of minutes to encrypt. A large external hard drive may take many hours and should likely be left to continue overnight.

Back up your recovery key in case you forget your password

Click the Windows Start Button and type ‘Manage Bitlocker’ without the quotes. Select the first result from the returned results.

Select your USB memory stick from the drives listed. If you have not yet unlocked it click the ‘Unlock drive’ option and enter your password.

Click unlock drive if you have not done so already

Select the ‘Back up your recovery key’ option.

Back up a copy of the key to your private H drive

Select the option to ‘Save to a file’. We recommend you store this key on your private H drive. You can use this key to unlock the memory stick if you forget your password.

How do I now use my encrypted memory stick?

When you plug in the memory stick to any Windows computer you should be prompted for your password. If you are not click on the memory stick as you normally would to access files. At this point a password prompt should pop up.

Troubleshooting / Frequently Asked Questions

I plugged my memory stick into my WBS laptop at home but could not encrypt it, why not?

As part of the encryption process we automatically take a copy of the recovery key and store it on WBS servers. That way if you forget your password we can help you decrypt your memory stick. When you are at home your computer cannot send us this recovery key and so we do not allow the encryption to continue.

If you try to encrypt your USB device while away from the Warwick network you get an error message like that below. Please try again the next time your computer is connected to the WBS network.

You will receive an error message if you try to encrypt while away from Warwick

I use a Windows device and a Mac. Can I use the encrypted memory stick on both devices?

There is some additional software you can run on your Mac to allow you to use these encrypted memory sticks. Please contact for more details. There will be no cost to you.