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How to encrypt an external drive or card on macOS

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How to encrypt an external drive or card on macOS

Want to encrypt removable storage on macOS, but don’t know how? Jack Wallen shows you how to make this work.

In this day and age, encryption has become an important part of doing business for some people. This may not be the most efficient way of working, but the additional security gained by utilizing encryption technology is more than redeeming because it has to take a few extra steps. Because sensitive information isn’t just a business domain, this also applies to home users.

Depending on your platform, you might need to install third-party software to encrypt drives that are connected externally, such as USB drives and memory cards. However, with macOS, you don’t. Everything you need to encrypt the drives is built directly into the platform.

I want to walk you through the steps to encrypt the SD card using only the software that came with the MacBook Pro, running macOS 10.15.5.

What do you need

As you might expect, you will need an Apple machine to make it work. You also need an SD card and a card reader or a USB drive.

How to enable encryption

The opportunity might be good because encryption has been activated on your macOS device. If not, you can do this by opening System Preferences and navigating to Security & Privacy. Once there, click on the FileVault tab. If FileVault is activated, Turn off FileVault will be gray (Figure A).

Figure A

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Encryption has been activated.

If FileVault isn’t activated, make sure your machine is plugged into a wall outlet, click Turn on FileVault, type your user password, and wait for the process to finish. During this process, you will be asked if you want to use iCloud to decrypt the drive. This is offered if you forget your encryption password.

The only warning to use iCloud for this purpose is that your machine must have an internet connection in order to function. So your best bet is to remember your encryption password and store a 20 digit recovery code because the recovery code can also be used to decrypt your drive.
How to encrypt a memory card

Let’s encrypt the SD memory card. Before we dive into this, understand that the process will erase everything on the card. So make sure to copy all files from the card to local storage. You can then copy everything back, after the drive is encrypted.

To encrypt the card, insert it into your reader and attach the reader to the machine. After the card is recognized, open the Disk Utility application (found on Launchpad). You will see a card listed in the left panel. However, that is not the look you want. At the top left of the Disk Utility window, click the View drop-down and select Show All Devices (Figure B).

Figure B

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See all devices in Disk Utility.

You should now see the real name of the registered card (such as Generic – Multi-Card Media). Select the entry and click Remove from the top toolbar. In the resulting window, provide a new business card (or the same name), select Mac OS Extended from the Format drop-down, and select GUID Partition Map from the Scheme drop-down. Click Delete to format the card (Figure C).

Figure C

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Format SD card on macOS.

After formatting is complete, click Finish.

How to encrypt a newly formatted card

Now it’s time to encrypt the newly formed card. Open Finder and right-click (or double-tap) the SD card list in the left panel. From the menu, select the Encryption entry (Figure D).

Figure D

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Encrypt SD card on macOS.

You will be asked to type and verify the encryption password, and add a password hint (required) (Figure E).

Figure E

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Add passwords and instructions for SD card encryption on macOS.

After you have filled in the required information, click Disk Encryption. When this process is complete, you can add the file back to disk, and remove it from the machine. Your SD card is now protected behind the encryption layer. The only way people can read that disk is by entering the encryption password that you created.

Congratulations, data that removable devices are now protected.

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