To protect your files from hackers and thieves, Macs offer excellent encryption features built-in. You can encrypt your entire hard drive, encrypt an external drive, or just create an encrypted container for your most important files.

It’s a better situation than Windows 10, where full disk encryption is only offered on some PCs, and partial encryption depends on third party tools. Mac users don’t need to think about it: if you have a Mac, you have access to powerful encryption.

Encrypt Your Entire System Drive

RELATED: What Is Encryption, and How Does It Work?

The FileVault feature allows you to encrypt your Mac’s entire hard disk. When you enable FileVault, your files are stored on your hard drive in an encrypted, seemingly scrambled format. Someone who gains access to your Mac, removes your hard drive, and attempts to view your files won’t be able to see anything without your encryption key. (Without FileVault enabled, anyone with physical access to your Mac could remove its hard drive and view your files, because they’re stored in an unencrypted form.)

You can choose which user accounts have the ability to unlock your disk. When you turn on your Mac, you’ll have to sign in with one of those user accounts before your drive is unlocked. Your drive will be locked again when you shut down your Mac.

To enable FileVault, click the Apple icon on the menu at the top of your screen, select System Preferences, and click the Security & Privacy icon. Click the “Turn On FileVault” option to enable and configure FileVault.

By default, FileVault will ask you for your Apple ID. This allows you to regain access to the drive if you forget the username and password for the local account on your Mac. If you’d rather not tie your encryption to a (potentially hackable) online account, that’s not a problem: you can opt for a recovery key instead. Keep this key somewhere safe, because it’s the only way you can recover your files should you lose access to the local accounts on your Mac with permission to decrypt the drive.

Once you’re done configuring FileVault, your Mac will begin encrypting your drive in the background. This can take days, so consider keeping your Mac awake overnight.

Encrypt Removable Devices

With macOS you can also encrypt entire external drives. The contents of the drive will be encrypted with a passphrase you choose, and no one will be able to access them without that passphrase. It functions like BitLocker To Go on Enterprise editions of Windows, but it’s available to all Mac users.

To encrypt a drive, simply open the Finder and connect the drive to your Mac. Ctrl+click or right-click the drive in the Finder sidebar and select the Encrypt option.

The disk will be encrypted once you enter your password of choice—be sure to use a secure one! You may have to wait several minutes for the contents of your disk to be encrypted, depending on the size of your drive and its speed.

Don’t lose your password! If you do, you won’t be able to access any files on the encrypted drive.

Encrypt Specific Files With a Disk Image

RELATED: How to Create an Encrypted Disk Image to Securely Store Sensitive Files on a Mac

You can encrypt individual files by creating an encrypted file container, or disk image. Whenever you want to work with your encrypted files just mount the disk image and enter your password. The files will be available to use and any files you save to the disk image will be encrypted. When you unmount the disk image, the files will be locked and no one will be able to access them unless they have your encryption password.

This is a simple method for encrypting files. You don’t have to encrypt any entire devices; you just have to use a single container file. Better yet, the encrypted disk image you create can be synchronized online using a service like Dropbox or Google Drive. You’ll have an online copy and can synchronize it between your computers, but no one will be able to access your files without your encryption key. You won’t have to worry about your sensitive data being compromised if you use a secure password.

Follow our guide to creating and using an encrypted disk image for more information. Remember, if you lose your password, you won’t be able to mount your disk image and access the files inside!

Other encryption utilities like the venerable VeraCrypt will also work on a Mac, but you don’t need them as badly as you do on a Windows PC. The above encryption tools are integrated into macOS.

Photo credit: Tanyapatch/

Profile Photo for Chris Hoffman Chris Hoffman
Chris Hoffman is Editor-in-Chief of How-To Geek. He's written about technology for over a decade and was a PCWorld columnist for two years. Chris has written for The New York Times and Reader's Digest, been interviewed as a technology expert on TV stations like Miami's NBC 6, and had his work covered by news outlets like the BBC. Since 2011, Chris has written over 2,000 articles that have been read more than one billion times---and that's just here at How-To Geek.
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