Lose Your USB Stick and You Lose it All – Encrypt Now with Free Software!

Sure, I know, you’ll never lose your USB flash drive, and you take particular care to ensure it won’t be stolen. But does loss, or theft, of a USB stick happen? You bet.

How often have you read/heard the following – 200,00 (insert your own number here), bank account numbers, Social Insurance Numbers, names, addresses and dates of birth were on a Laptop/USB flash drive stolen/lost earlier this week.

In too many of these cases, negligently, the data is unencrypted. Certainly Laptop/ USB flash drive theft or loss is not restricted to organizations; it can just as easily happen to you.

The following are selected statistics, but they make the point that USB sticks, or other portable media devices, frequently get lost, or stolen.

Privacyrights.org recently reported that in the last two years, personal information on over 244 million Americans has being stolen, or exposed in other ways.

– Recently in the U.K. an unencrypted Ministry of Defense USB drive was found on the floor of a nightclub. That’s not much of a story I suppose, but added to the other fifty eight Ministry of Defense unencrypted drives that have been lost so far in 2008, that contained details of troop movements, locations, and travel accommodation and it takes on a different perspective.

– In the U.S., The Transportation Security Agency (TSA) recently admitted the loss of an unencrypted external hard drive containing the personal, bank and payroll information of up to 100,000 of its former and current employees who worked for the agency from January 2002 until August 2005.

– Just last month unencrypted data on all 84,000 prisoners in England and Wales went missing after a contractor lost a USB stick on which it had been stored.

– According to Security Software Zone “Government data loss and data leakages related to lost or stolen computer memory sticks, are now commonplace.”

To reduce or eliminate the security threat to your sensitive data, the most prudent course for you to follow is to encrypt your data. If you’re unfamiliar with data encryption; simply put, it is a process by which bits of data are mathematically jumbled with a password-key. The process makes the data unreadable unless, or until, decrypted by you.

Here are a number of free encryption applications that will encrypt your data and are suitable for a USB flash drive:


EncryptOnClick is a free program that lets you securely encrypt and decrypt files. The program is very simple to use, and features military grade 256-bit AES encryption.

After you have launched the application, simply select the target file/folder you want to encrypt. Following the easy interface, type a password for that file/folder which will then be encrypted. To open the encrypted file/folder at a later date, you must type the correct password.

Quick facts:

A very secure encryption and decryption method is used (256-bit AES encryption)

Files are both compressed & encrypted, which results in a smaller file

Password protected

Will encrypt single files or all files in a folder

Very simple to use interface

Can be used on a USB key

Fully Unicode enabled so filenames in any language can be encrypted

Will encrypt, decrypt, compress, and uncompress files which can also be opened and decrypted using third party programs like WinZip 9 – provided the correct password is used

Will detect if you’re decrypting a file that is in a temporary folder, and if so, will prompt you to see if you would like to decrypt it into a different folder

Command line parameters can be used

Complete help file

Free technical support, online forums, knowledge base, and FAQs at 2BrightSparks

Tip: Use on a USB key by copying the files EncryptOnClick.exe, EncryptOnClick.exe manifest, ExceedZip.dll to a named folder on the USB key.

System Requirements: Windows 98/ME/2000/XP

Download at: Download.com


TrueCrypt is an outstanding free open source software system, (one I have using for the last several years) for establishing and maintaining an on-the-fly-encrypted volume.

On-the-fly encryption simply means that data are automatically encrypted or decrypted just before they are loaded or saved, without any user intervention. No data stored on an encrypted volume can be read (decrypted) without using the correct password/correct encryption keys.

TrueCrypt uses 11 algorithms for encrypting private files in a password-protected volume. You can store your encrypted data in files, partitions, or a portable storage device such as a USB flash drive.

Once your encrypted files are mounted to a local drive with your password or key, you can manipulate those files, i.e. you can open, copy, delete, or modify them. When you have completed working on those files, you then dismount the volume and the files are then safely secured from unauthorized access.

Quick Facts:

Creates a virtual encrypted disk within a file and mounts it as a real disk

Encrypts an entire hard disk partition or a storage device such as USB flash drive

Encryption is automatic, real-time (on-the-fly) and transparent

Provides two levels of plausible deniability, in case an adversary forces you to reveal the password – Hidden volume – No TrueCrypt volume can be identified – volumes cannot be distinguished from random data

Encryption algorithms: AES-256, Serpent, and Twofish. Mode of operation: XTS

Ability to encrypt a system partition/drive (i.e. a partition/drive where Windows is installed) with pre-boot authentication (anyone who wants to gain access and use the system, read and write files, etc., needs to enter the correct password each time before the system starts

System Requirements: Windows 2000/XP/2003/Vista

Download at: Download.com

For those of you who are more interested in protecting files, or folders, on your home computer the two applications above will do the job nicely. Choice is good of course, so here is an additional free program that you might be interested in.

My Lockbox

My Lockbox is a freeware software application that allows you to do just that, and then password protect those files on your computer.

Other users will not have access to these files, nor will they be able to accidentally, or otherwise, view them or manipulate them in any way.

The protected folder (lockbox) is hidden from all other users and applications on your computer; including the Administrator and the System. The lockbox (protected folder), is impossible to access not only from the local computer, but also from the Internet.

Following the on-screen instructions makes this program extremely easy to setup and use. The lockbox location, password, and parameters are configured during the easy setup procedure.

After the setup is completed, the lockbox will be hidden and locked until you, as the user, enter the valid password. My Lockbox Control Panel allows you easily change basic lockbox parameters: lockbox location, protection status, and password.

The program is effective, easy to use and best of all – it’s free.

Quick facts:

Very easy to use

Almost any folder on your computer can be password protected

Instant protection – no file scrambling

Lockbox folder is inaccessible even by the system administrators

Lockbox folder is inaccessible both locally and remotely

Lockbox folder can be protected in Windows safe mode

Hotkeys support – you can popup the Control Panel with a keystroke

Skinned user interface


System Requirements: Windows 2000, XP, 2003 Server, Vista

Download at: Download.com


Filed under Encryption, Encryption Software, Freeware, Geek Software and Tools, Open Source, Portable Applications, Privacy, Software, Windows Tips and Tools

2 responses to “Lose Your USB Stick and You Lose it All – Encrypt Now with Free Software!

  1. This is why i tell my friends to either use encryption or buy a ironkey

  2. Pingback: Stolen or Lost Laptop Tracker Software - Adeona Free « Bill Mullins’ Weblog - Tech Thoughts