Losing a USB flash drive can be the stuff of nightmares if it contains sensitive or valuable information. Windows 7 and Windows 7 include an encryption system called BitLocker To Go, which will safely encrypt the data stored on your external drives and lock them down with a password. Here's how.

Corporate users may instead elect to use a hardware-based encryption system, using a smart card and reader attached to the PC, which can provide additional protection. BitLocker To Go is very straightforward to use. Simply insert the USB drive you wish to protect and locate it in the Computer folder in Windows Explorer. Next right-click the drive and select 'Turn on BitLocker'.

Enable the setting 'Use a password to unlock the drive', enter and then confirm your password and click Next. Some advice on creating a strong password can be found at tinyurl.com/8z3kh2h.

Windows will now prompt you to print or save a recovery key to a file. You can use this key to regain access to the USB drive if you forget your password, so be sure to keep it in a safe place away from the encrypted drive.

Using the BitLocker To Go Reader, which is automatically installed on your USB drive, you will be able to read, but not write to the contents of the encrypted drive on a PC running Windows XP or Vista. This utility will allow you copy files off the drive and on to your PC for editing.

See all How to articles. Get free tech support in the Helproom Forum.

Visit Windows 7 Advisor for more Windows advice. Or email our Helproom Editor for bespoke advice.

BitLocker To Go