Data encryption is among the most effective techniques for protecting confidential files, but it can become a double-edged sword when recovering lost data. Why? Because files stored on an encrypted (password-protected) USB drive can’t be accessed by anyone unless the USB drive is decrypted and unlocked first. 

If you’ve found yourself in a situation where you need to recover lost files from an encrypted/password-locked USB drive, the instructions provided in this article are just what you need to get them back regardless of if you’re using Windows or macOS.

How to Unlock Encrypted USB Drive

It’s not possible to recover files from an encrypted USB drive unless the drive is decrypted/unlocked first. 

Let’s go over three ways to unlock an encrypted USB drive—one for Windows, one for macOS, and one that works regardless of which operating system you use.

recover deleted files from an encrypted USB flash drive

Method 1: How to Unlock a Flash Drive in Windows

Unlocking a password-locked USB drive in Windows is easy, assuming the drive has been encrypted using BitLocker, Microsoft’s encryption tool included with Microsoft Windows versions starting with Windows Vista.

How to unlock a flash drive encrypted using BitLocker:

  1. Insert the flash drive into a USB port on your PC.
  2. Open the Start menu and type “control panel.”
  3. Launch the classic Control Panel and navigate to System and Security → BitLocker Drive Encryption.
  4. Select the encrypted flash drive and click the Unlock drive option.how to recover encrypted files
  5. Enter your password and confirm.

If you don’t remember your password anymore, you can click More options and use your 48-digit recovery key instead. If you would like to learn how to remove a password from a USB flash drive encrypted with BitLocker, you can read this official tutorial.

Method 2: How to Decrypt a USB Flash Drive in macOS

macOS comes with a native disk encryption program called FileVault. If you need to recover files from a USB drive that has been encrypted with it, then you need to enter your password first to unlock it. The good news is that it won’t take you more than a minute to do so.

How to unlock a password-protected USB drive using FileVault:

  1. Insert the flash drive into a USB port on your Mac.
  2. Launch Finder and right-click your USB drive.
  3. Select the Decrypt option.recover files from encrypted usb on a mac
  4. Enter your password and confirm.

Tip: As a Mac user, you can also decrypt BitLocker-protected USB drives, but you need to use a third-party software application like UUByte BitLocker Geeker.

Method 3: How to Unlock a Physically Locked USB Flash Drive

how to remove password from usb flash drive

Just like SD cards, some USB flash drives feature a physical lock switch that makes it impossible to write new data on the device when engaged.

Such a switch can protect the USB drive from malware infections, accidental erasure and overwriting, and other user errors. However, it can also complicate recovery attempts by making it impossible to copy backups of lost files to the USB flash drive.

To disable read-only protection on your USB flash drive, all you need to do is move the lock switch to the off position.

How to Restore Files from Password-Protected USB Drive

Now that you know how to unlock a USB memory stick and make it fully accessible, we can finally explain what you need to do in order to recover lost files from it. Once again, we’re describing multiple methods so you can choose the one that best fits your specific data loss scenario. 

Option 1: Recover Your Files from a Backup

how to encrypt a flash drive without softwareIf you’ve been diligently backing up your data using File History in Windows or Time Machine in macOS, then you should be able to quickly and painlessly recover all lost files by following the step-by-step instructions below.

File History (Windows)

  1. Launch File Explorer.
  2. Right-click your USB drive and select the Restore previous versions option.
  3. Select a previous version and click Restore.password locked usb

Time Machine (macOS)

  1. Launch Finder and open your USB flash drive.
  2. Click the Time Machine icon in the Menu bar and select Enter Time Machine.how to unlock a flash drive
  3. Use the navigational arrows to find a backup with the files you want to recover.
  4. Select your files and click Restore.

Of course, there are countless third-party backup software applications for Windows and macOS, but it would be beyond the scope of this article to describe them all. That said, you should be able to find detailed instructions for just about any backup application with a simple Google search.

Option 2: Use Data Recovery Software

password protected usb driveDon’t have a backup from which you could recover your files? Don’t despair just yet! You can download data recovery software like Disk Drill and attempt to recover files that are no longer accessible from Windows or macOS.

Disk Drill and other similar applications scan the actual physical storage space, looking for traces of deleted files that haven’t been overwritten yet. If you act quickly enough and are at least a little bit lucky, you should recover some and maybe even all lost files.

We recommend Disk Drill because it runs on both Windows and macOS, is exceptionally easy to use, and delivers fantastic recovery results. What’s more, Disk Drill comes with handy extra tools that you can use to avoid data loss emergencies in the future.

To recover encrypted files from a USB drive on a Windows PC: 

  1. Download and install Disk Drill for Windows.
  2. Connect the USB drive to your PC and unlock it.
  3. Launch Disk Drill and scan the USB drive.how to recover encrypted files on windows
  4. Preview & select the files you want to recover.
  5. Click Recover and pick a suitable recovery location.recover files from encrypted usb on windows

To recover encrypted files from a USB drive on a Mac: 

  1. Download and install Disk Drill for Mac.
  2. Connect the USB drive to your Mac and unlock it.
  3. Launch Disk Drill and scan the USB drive.how to remove password from usb flash drive on mac
  4. Preview & select the files you want to recover.
  5. Click Recover and pick a suitable recovery location.how to encrypt a flash drive without software on mac

Option 3: Pay for Professional Data Recovery

how to unlock a USB flash drive with service Have your data recovery attempts failed to yield the desired results? If so, then you should consider sending your USB flash drive to a professional data recovery center.

Professional data recovery centers are equipped with state-of-the-art data recovery software and hardware tools, allowing them to recover data even from physically damaged or heavily corrupted storage devices.

Just don’t expect data recovery professionals to circumvent modern encryption standards, such as AES-256. Without the correct password, even experienced professionals won’t get too far.

How to Fix a Broken USB Flash Stick in Any Situation→

Conclusion

Learning how to recover encrypted files from a USB drive isn’t nearly as difficult as it may initially seem. As long as you manage to successfully unlock the drive, the actual recovery is a piece of cake—at least if you use a straightforward data recovery tool. 

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David Morelo

David Morelo is a professional content writer in the technology niche, covering everything from consumer products to emerging technologies and their cross-industry application.His interest in technology started at an ...

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Brett Johnson

This article has been approved by Brett Johnson, Data Recovery Engineer at ACE Data Recovery. Brett has a Bachelor's Degree in Computer Systems and Network, 12 years of experience.