How to Encrypt an External Drive Quickly in Mac OS X

Sep 17, 2012 - 8 Comments

Encrypted disk in Mac OS X

It’s now easier than ever to quickly encrypt external disks and hard drives from Mac OS X, whether they are USB drives, Firewire, or even SD cards. While you can still use the traditional route to encrypt disks through Disk Utility, from OS X Mountain Lion onward the process is streamlined directly into the Finder and desktop:

  • Connect any external drive to the Mac
  • Right-click on the external drives name in the Finder and choose “Encrypt DiskName…”
  • How to encrypt a disk in Mac OS  X the easy way

  • Set and confirm a password, then set a reasonable password hint, followed by clicking the “Encrypt” button – do not forget this or you will lose access to the data!
  • Wait while the encryption takes place

For help generating strong passwords, clicking the little key icon will summon the password strength tool and generator.

Encrypting an external disk from Mac OS X

The encryption process can be very quick for smaller drives like USB keys and SD cards, but can take quite a while for large external hard drives used for backups or personal data. Be prepared to wait a bit for anything larger than a few GB in size, as the general encryption-to-GB time ratio seems to be about 1GB per minute.

Once the drive has finished encrypting and is disconnected, a password will be required before the data can be accessed from the Mac. To maintain the password protection, be sure to uncheck saving the password to the Keychain when asked.

The contextual menu approach makes this process very fast and easy, let’s just hope a future version of OS X provides similar encryption and password protection directly for local files and folders as well. Until then, you can continue to password protect individual folders and data with Disk Images to achieve that.

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Posted by: William Pearson in Mac OS X, Security, Tips & Tricks

8 Comments

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  1. John says:

    Excellent idea for personal thumb drives, great tip!

  2. Kevin says:

    What happens when you try to plug this into a windows machine after you have encrypted it? I assume its visible only on mac’s?

  3. cnn says:

    awesome tip, one of my main reasons for updating to ML

  4. Bill says:

    Sweet! I have replaced my optical drive with a second hard drive for all my data and was concerned because FileVault only works on my primary drive. This is great news!

  5. smrt says:

    I can see 2 main disadvantages:

    First, it is MacOS only. Second, it can be proved the disk is encrypted so the encryption could be simply broken by the Rubber-hose cryptanalysis.

    IMO, truecrypt is safer option.

  6. csm says:

    Nice article and well explained.

    After the encryption is completed the info about the disk will describe the format as Mac OS Extended (Journaled, Encrypted).

    My question is: How do you undo this procedure leaving the disk in the original state as journaled only?

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