Often we want to keep some files and folders safe, away from prying eyes of others. This is required even more if we are sharing the computer with some other people--family, friends or roommates. In this tutorial, we will learn how to use TrueCrypt to create a hidden, encrypted folder/volume on your local drive and also on your USB removable drive. It will also explain how you can encrypt the entire USB drive, which will make it appear as if it's an unformatted drive.
TrueCrypt is a free, open source disk-encryption application that works with both Windows and Linux. It is a handy tool for safekeeping your data. Download the latest version of TrueCrypt and install it.
How to create an encrypted disk? After installing the application, we need to create an encrypted drive to serve as our document vault. Run the application and click on "Create Volume". Now choose "Create an encrypted file container" for creating an encrypted folder. If you do not have any risk of being forced to reveal the password of the encrypted folder, choose to create a standard TrueCrypt volume; else a hidden one.
Now, click on the "Select file" option and navigate to the location where you want to create your encrypted folder. Now choose a name, say, SafeVault, for the encrypted folder and save.
TrueCrypt will now ask you to specify an encryption algorithm. If you aren't sure about the options, leave the default options. Specify the size of the folder or volume. You should be generous while deciding the size unless you are comfortable with the option of creating another encrypted volume later to meet increased requirement.
Choose the password for your encrypted folder. Goes without saying that you will have to keep it strong enough if you want it to be secure.
You may want to choose the format option for the volume. Next, click on format. This shouldn't be confused with formatting the drive. It's just the small space that you have allocated to TrueCrypt volume that it's talking about. You won't loose any of your documents.
Using the encrypted disk: After you have created the disk, it has to be mounted before you can use it to store your files and folders. Select a volume label from the list, say Z:, that you want to be used for loading the encrypted volume.
In the lower half of the TrueCrypt interface, you will find a Volume section. Click on the "Select file" option and select the file that was created for holding the encrypted volume, in this case SafeVault. Now, click on "Mount" and enter the password for the volume. This will mount the encrypted disk on your computer and will be available under My Computer in Windows XP or Computer in Windows Vista.
The encrypted disk will now behave like the other ordinary disks available on the system. You can create folders or files, and save any new work on this drive. You can also drag-and-drop or cut-and-paste any file or folder on to this encrypted volume.
Hiding the encrypted disk: After you are done saving your files and folders on this encrypted disk, it's time to hide the entire volume. This hides all the files and folders.
Go to TrueCrypt icon, docked in the system tray, and open the interface. Select the name of the active encrypted volume, in our case Z:, and hit "Dismount". To exit the application, you will have to choose exit from the system tray icon. If you want to save yourself from having to exit the application after unmounting all encrypted drives, you can go to Settings-> Preferences and choose "Exit when there are no mounted drives" option.
Creating an encrypted folder on a USB device: TrueCrypt can be used to create encrypted folders on a USB device, without encrypting the entire removable device. It is a better option for most users as it doesn't require you to have TrueCrypt installed on all the computers where you wish to use the flash drive.
Click on the TrueCrypt installer and choose "Extract" option and not install. Extract the encryption application in any folder in your USB drive. I chose to extract it in a folder called TrueCrypt in my USB drive.
Go to the folder and click on the "TrueCrypt' icon, and not on "TrueCrypt Format". Now choose "Create volume" and choose "Create an encrypted file conatiner". Choose the standard volume option. Now hit "Select file", navigate to a desired folder/place in your your USB drive. Type the name for the encrypted file container and save. You can also choose a desired format. (I chose to save the encrypted file container as "MyVault" in TrueCrypt folder in the USB drive. I left the format as "All files".) Now choose a size for the file and also a password for accessing the encrypted container. Clicking on partition option might take some time to complete the process as things are slower on USB drives.
When you want to access the encrypted volume on your USB, navigate to the folder that contains the extracted files, in my case TrueCrypt in the USB drive. Click on the TrueCrypt icon to start the executable application. Now choose the encrypted file container from the location on the USB where you saved it. In my case, it's MyVault saved in the same TrueCrypt folder that contains the extracted files of TrueCrypt. Also, choose a drive letter to be assigned to the encrypted volume for mounting.
In Windows XP, you will find a new drive listed with the chosen drive letter. In Windows Vista, it will be listed under Computer. Use the encrypted drive like any other drive. Once done, click on the TrueCrypt icon docked in the system tray and "dismount" the encrypted drive. Your secret drive is safely hidden from any threats.
How to encrypt entire USB flash drive? USB drives are vulnerable to loss or theft. You can encrypt a USB drive drive so that it appears to be unformatted space when inserted into a USB port. The user computer needs to have installed TrueCrypt so that the encrypted flash drive can be mounted, though under a different drive letter. First, backup all data on flash drive as it might require to be formatted, at least in Windows XP.
Click on "Create volume" and then select "Encrypt a non-system partition or drive". Now hit "Click device' and choose the flash drive. You can easily identify it with the drive letter.
Now choose to create encrypted volume and format it. You can also choose to encrypt without formatting if you are using Windows Vista. Now choose a password and format (NTFS/FAT) for the encrypted flash drive. It's ready now.
Using the encrypted USB drive: The encrypted USB drive appears as if it is an unformatted drive under the OS. But actually it stores all your data, if any, in encrypted form and can be used with only those systems which have TrueCrupt installed on them.
The encrypted flash drive needs to mounted before we can use it. For this, we need to choose "select device" in the TrueCrypt interface and choose the appropriate removable device. Choose a drive letter and enter your password. This will mount the encrypted USB drive as a separate drive assigned with the specified letter. Use it like any other drive.
Once done, "dismount' using the TrueCrypt interface. Now you can safely remove the device by choosing "Safely remove the device" option in wndows, as you would have done had it not been encrypted.