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How to Enable BitLocker on an External Drive

Important Steps Before You Begin

Edition Matters: BitLocker Drive Encryption is available on Windows Pro, Enterprise and Education editions. If you have Windows Home you’ll need to upgrade to unlock BitLocker.

TPM Chip: Most modern computers have a TPM (Trusted Platform Module) chip which helps with BitLocker encryption. If you have a very old system you will need to set up a password or use a USB startup key.

Steps to Enable BitLocker

1. Connect the Drive: Plug in your external drive.

2. Open File Explorer: Go to This PC and you should see your external drive listed under your internal drives.

3. Initiate Encryption: Right click on the drive and select Turn on BitLocker from the list of options.

4. Choose Unlock Method

– Password (common): Select “Use a password to unlock the drive” and create a strong password.

– Smart Card (advanced): If your organization uses smart cards, select “Use my smart card to unlock the drive”.

– Recovery Key Storage: Choose how to store your recovery key (needed if you ever forget your password). You can save it to a file, Microsoft account or print it. This key is important because if you lose it you’re very unlikely to be able to decrypt the BitLocker external drive without it.

5. Encryption Level

– New Drives: Choose “Encrypt used disk space only” (faster).

– Partially Full Drives: Select “Encrypt entire drive” (slower but more secure).

– Encryption Mode: If the drive will only be used with Windows 10/11, choose “New encryption mode (XTS-AES)”. Otherwise, for wider compatibility with older Windows versions use “Compatible mode”

6. Start Encryption: Click “Start encrypting”. Encryption time will usually take half a day or more if your drive is over 500GB and you’re encrypting the whole drive. Be prepared to keep your computer awake for a long time until it finishes.

Afterwards

Unlocking: When you plug in the drive an icon prompts you for the password or smart card.

Performance: You will notice minor performance slowdowns but with modern computers it’s kind of negligible so don’t worry about it too much.

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