How to encrypt Windows 10 hard drives using BitLocker

Martin Brinkmann
Nov 17, 2015
Updated • Sep 14, 2018
Windows, Windows 10

BitLocker is a built-in encryption feature that Microsoft included with select editions of Windows Vista for the first time. While it is supported by all versions of Windows, only professional and enterprise versions of the operating system come with options to encrypt hard drives using it.

The main appeal of BitLocker is that it is built-in the operating system which mean that encrypted drives can be decrypted on all Windows Vista or later versions without requiring additional software programs.

Software like DiskLocker can be used to read BitLocker encrypted drives under Linux or Mac OSX.

BitLocker has been criticized in the past over security concerns. According to Microsoft, it has no backdoor built-in for law enforcement but since its code is proprietary, that claim cannot be verified.

Windows users who prefer not to use BitLocker over this may want to check out third-party alternatives such as Disk Cryptor or VeraCrypt.

The following guide walks you through the steps of encrypting one or multiple hard drives or removable drives on Windows 10. Most of it can be applied to previous versions of Windows as well.

Encrypting hard drives with BitLocker

turn on bitlocker

One of the easiest options to encrypt a drive connected to a Windows machine with BitLocker is to do so directly in Windows Explorer.

  1. Open Windows Explorer, for instance with the shortcut Windows-E
  2. Right-click on the drive that you want to encrypt, and select "Turn on BitLocker" from the context menu.
  3. BitLocker starts up on selection of the option, and you are asked to select how you want to unlock the drive. The available options are by using an unlock password or by unlocking the drive using a smart card.
  4. It is important to select a secure password if password protection is selected to avoid brute force or guessing attacks.
  5. Select a location for the recovery key afterwards. This key can be used if you forget the password or lose access to your smart card. Options are to save it to the Microsoft Account, to save it to a file on the local system, or to print it.
  6. Select whether you want to encrypt the whole drive or only the used space on the drive. The first option takes longer to complete while the second is faster. It us highly suggested to select the first option if the drive was in use already, as it ensures that data traces on the drive cannot be recovered.

bitlocker encrypt drive bitlocker recovery key

The encryption process may take a while depending on the speed of the drive, its size and the resource use of the PC during the operation.

Unlocking drives encrypted with BitLocker

unlock drive

When you connect a drive to the Windows PC that is encrypted with BitLocker, you will receive a notification that informs you about the fact.

You may click on the notification to open the unlock prompt (if it is password protected) to unlock the drive and make its contents available.

If you have missed that option, right-click on the drive in Windows Explorer and select "unlock drive" from the menu which opens the same unlock option.

Locked drives are indicated with a yellow lock icon in Windows Explorer, and unlocked drives with a gray one.

Managing BitLocker

manage bitlocker

Managing BitLocker is a Control Panel applet that you can open in a variety of ways. Probably the easiest of them all is to right-click on a drive encrypted with BitLocker to select the manage option from the context menu.

There you find an option to change the BitLocker password as well which can come in handy.

If you cannot use that option, do the following instead:

  1. Tap on Windows-Pause and click on Control Panel Home when the window opens.
  2. Select System and Security > Manage BitLocker.

The status of each drive in regards to BitLocker is displayed on the following screen. For drives that are not yet protected with BitLocker, you may turn the feature on from there.

bitlocker management

It gets interesting when you expand a drive that is already protected. The following options become available:

  1. Back up your recovery key.
  2. Change the password.
  3. Remove the password.
  4. Add a smart card.
  5. Turn on auto-unlock - This unlocks the drive automatically on Windows start if it is connected.
  6. Turn off BitLocker

Now You: Which encryption program are you using and why?

How to encrypt Windows 10 hard drives using BitLocker
Article Name
How to encrypt Windows 10 hard drives using BitLocker
The guide walks you through the steps of protecting hard drives and removable drives on Windows 10 using BitLocker.
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  1. Dan Donx said on January 15, 2023 at 10:29 am

    What mental age of reader are you targeting with the first sentence? 10?

    Why not write an article on how to *avoid* upgrading from W10 to W11. Analogous to those like me who avoided upgrading from 7 to 10 for as long as possible.

    If your paymaster Microsoft permits it, of course.

  2. Dexter said on January 15, 2023 at 11:14 am

    5. Rufus
    6. Ventoy

    PS. I hate reading these “SEO optimized” articles.

    1. cdr said on January 15, 2023 at 3:32 pm

      I used Rufus to create an installer for a 6th gen intel i5 that had MBR. It upgraded using Setup. No issues except for Win 11 always prompting me to replace my local account. Still using Win 10 Pro on all my other PCs to avoid the bullying.

  3. sv said on January 15, 2023 at 6:40 pm

    bit pointless to upgrade for the sake of upgrading as you never know when you’ll get locked out because ms might suddenly not provide updates to unsupported systems.

    ps…. time travelling?
    written. Jan 15, 2023
    Updated • Jan 13, 2023

    1. Martin Brinkmann said on January 16, 2023 at 5:49 am

      This happens when you schedule a post in WordPress and update it before setting the publication date.

  4. Anonymous said on January 16, 2023 at 8:24 am

    Anyone willing to downgrade to this awful OS must like inflicting themselves with harm.

  5. basingstoke said on January 16, 2023 at 11:18 am

    I have become convinced now that anybody who has no qualms with using Windows 11/10 must fit into one of the following brackets:

    1) Too young to remember a time before W10 and W11 (doesn’t know better)

    2) Wants to play the latest games on their PC above anything else (or deeply needs some software which already dropped W7 support)

    3) Doesn’t know too much about how computers work, worried that they’d be absolutely lost and in trouble without the “”latest security””

    4) Microsoft apologist that tries to justify that the latest “features” and “changes” are actually a good thing, that improve Windows

    5) Uses their computer to do a bare minimum of like 3 different things, browse web, check emails, etc, so really doesn’t fuss

    Obviously that doesn’t cover everyone, there’s also the category that:

    6) Actually liked W7 more than 10, and held out as long as possible before switching, begrudgingly uses 10 now

    Have I missed any group off this list?

    1. Heinz Strunk said on September 19, 2023 at 3:57 pm

      You have missed in this group just about any professional user that uses business software like CAD programs or ERP Programs which are 99% of all professional users from this list.

      Linux doesn’t help anyone who is not a linux kid and apple is just a fancy facebook machine.

  6. ilev said on August 24, 2023 at 7:34 pm

    Microsoft has removed KB5029351 update

    1. EP said on August 24, 2023 at 9:21 pm

      only from windows update though
      KB5029351 is still available from the ms update catalog site

  7. Anonymous said on August 24, 2023 at 11:05 pm

    1. This update is labaled as PREVIEW if it causes issues to unintelligent people, then they shouldn’t have allowed Preview updates ot install.

    2. I have installed it in a 11 years old computer, and no problems at all.

    3. Making a big drama over a bluescreen for an updated labeled as preview is ridiculous.

    This is probably another BS internet drama where people ran programs and scripts that modified the registry until they broke Windows, just for removing stuff that they weren’t even using just for the sake of it.
    Maybe people should stop playing geeks and actually either use Windows 10 or Windows 11, but don’t try to modify things just for the sake of it.

    Sometimes removing or stopping things (like defender is a perfect example) only need intelligence, not scripts or 3rd party programs that might mess with windows.

  8. john said on August 24, 2023 at 11:17 pm

    Windows 11 was a pointless release, it was just created because some of the Windows team wanted to boost sales with some sort of new and improved Windows 10. Instead, Microsoft cannot support one version well let alone two.

    1. John G. said on August 25, 2023 at 12:08 pm

      Windows 11 is the worst ugly shame by Microsoft ever. They should release with every new W11 version a complete free version of Starallback inside just to make this sh** OS functionally again.

  9. EP said on August 25, 2023 at 3:10 pm

    motherboard maker MSI has recently released a statement regarding the “unsupported processor” blue screen error for their boards using Intel 600/700 series chipsets & to avoid the KB5029351 Win11 update:–UNSUPPORTED-PROCESSOR–Error-Message-of-Windows-11-Update-KB5029351-Preview-142215

  10. EP said on August 29, 2023 at 7:32 pm

    check out the following recent articles:

    Neowin – Microsoft puts little blame on its Windows update after UNSUPPORTED PROCESSOR BSOD bug:

    BleepingComputer – Microsoft blames ‘unsupported processor’ blue screens on OEM vendors:

  11. Leonard Britvolli said on August 30, 2023 at 10:33 pm

    While there may be changes or updates to the Windows 10 Store for Business and Education in the future, it is premature to conclude that it will be discontinued based solely on rumors.

  12. sembrador said on September 5, 2023 at 9:32 pm

    My advice, I left win 15 years ago. Now I’m a happy linux user (linuxmint) but there is Centos, Fedora, Ubuntu depending on your needs.

  13. EP said on September 6, 2023 at 11:55 am

    motherboard maker MSI has recently released new BIOS/firmware updates for their Intel 600 & 700 series motherboards to fix the “UNSUPPORTED_PROCESSOR” problem (Sept. 6):–UNSUPPORTED-PROCESSOR–caused-BSOD-on-MSI-s-Intel-700-and-600-Series-Motherboards-142277

  14. Raphael Benzo said on September 24, 2023 at 9:52 pm

    I try to disable the Diagnostics Tracking Service (Connected Devices Platform User Services) but it wont let me disable it, any help will be greatly appreciated.
    Tank you for your help

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