Many computer users tend to store important personal data on a USB flash drive because it is a convenient way to transfer data between machines. Unless you protect your data by encrypting it, anyone who has access to your thumb drive can access the personal files on it. Encryption software prevents unauthorized access to your files.
USB encryption software encodes each file or an entire flash drive with a unique passcode. Without the passcode, the files are indecipherable. This prevents anyone who comes into possession of your thumb drive from accessing the files on the drive unless they have the passcode that you used to encrypt the files. Whenever you insert your USB flash drive into a computer, you need to run the corresponding decryption software to access your files. Encryption software does not prevent someone from reformatting your USB drive and deleting its contents, so it is still important to back up the data on your drive.
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The source code for open source USB encryption software is publicly available. This allows anyone to understand exactly how the software works and what it does. Open source code allows you and the Internet community to ensure that the encryption software does not have exploitable backdoors programmed into it. Open-source code also allows people to look for bugs in the encryption program. This can make the software more stable and decreases the chances of the program suffering an error and corrupting your encrypted data.
Most USB storage is system independent; you can transfer data among a Windows PC, a Mac computer and a Linux PC with the same flash drive. Before encrypting your storage device, ensure that the software that you use to encrypt it runs on all of the computers that you intend to use your storage device with. If there is no Mac or Linux version of the decryption software, your data is inaccessible on these computers. You may also want to keep an unencrypted copy of the decryption program on your USB storage device so that you can install it on new computers.
Many open source encryption programs work with USB storage. Each program handles encryption in a slightly different way. TrueCrypt is one of the most popular open source encryption programs. TrueCrypt is available for Windows, Mac and Linux, but you need a separate installer for each. FreeOTFE is similar to TrueCrypt, but it can run directly from a USB storage device without being installed on a system. FreeOTFE is only available for Windows. AxCrypt offers special decrypting programs that can also run directly from a USB flash drive without installation, but it is also limited to Windows computers.