If you encrypt your Windows system drive with BitLocker, you can add a PIN for additional security. You’ll need to enter the PIN each time you turn on your PC, before Windows will even start. This is separate from a login PIN, which you enter after Windows boots up.
RELATED: How to Use a USB Key to Unlock a BitLocker-Encrypted PC
A pre-boot PIN prevents the encryption key from automatically being loaded into system memory during the boot process, which protects against direct memory access (DMA) attacks on systems with hardware vulnerable to them. Microsoft’s documentation explains this in more detail.
Step One: Enable BitLocker (If You Haven’t Already)
RELATED: How to Set Up BitLocker Encryption on Windows
This is a BitLocker feature, so you have to use BitLocker encryption to set a pre-boot PIN. This is only available on Professional and Enterprise editions of Windows. Before you can set a PIN, you have to enable BitLocker for your system drive.
Note that, if you go out of your way to enable BitLocker on a computer without a TPM, you’ll be prompted to create a startup password that’s used instead of the TPM. The below steps are only necessary when enabling BitLocker on computers with TPMs, which most modern computers have.
If you have a Home version of Windows, you won’t be able to use BitLocker. You may have the Device Encryption feature instead, but this works differently from BitLocker and doesn’t allow you to provide a startup key.
Step Two: Enable the Startup PIN in Group Policy Editor
Once you’ve enabled BitLocker, you’ll need to go out of your way to enable a PIN with it. This requires a Group Policy settings change. To open the Group Policy Editor, press Windows+R, type “gpedit.msc” into the Run dialog, and press Enter.
Head to Computer Configuration > Administrative Templates > Windows Components > BitLocker Drive Encryption > Operating System Drives in the Group Policy window.
Double-click the “Require Additional Authentication at Startup” Option in the right pane.
Select “Enabled” at the top of the window here. Then, click the box under “Configure TPM Startup PIN” and select the “Require Startup PIN With TPM” option. Click “OK” to save your changes.
Step Three: Add a PIN to Your Drive
You can now use the
manage-bde command to add the PIN to your BitLocker-encrypted drive.
To do this, launch a Command Prompt window as Administrator. On Windows 10 or 8, right-click the Start button and select “Command Prompt (Admin)”. On Windows 7, find the “Command Prompt” shortcut in the Start menu, right-click it, and select “Run as Administrator”
Run the following command. The below command works on your C: drive, so if you want to require a startup key for another drive, enter its drive letter instead of
manage-bde -protectors -add c: -TPMAndPIN
You’ll be prompted to enter your PIN here. The next time you boot, you’ll be asked for this PIN.
Tip: If you see an error, run the
gpupdatecommand on its own line before running the
manage-bdecommand shown above. This will force Windows to apply your group policy changes.
To double-check whether the TPMAndPIN protector was added, you can run the following command:
(The “Numerical Password” key protector displayed here is your recovery key.)
How to Change Your BitLocker PIN
To change the PIN in the future, open a Command Prompt window as Administrator and run the following command:
manage-bde -changepin c:
You’ll need to type and confirm your new PIN before continuing.
How to Remove the PIN Requirement
If you change your mind and want to stop using the PIN later, you can undo this change.
First, you’ll need to head to the Group Policy window and change the option back to “Allow Startup PIN With TPM”. You can’t leave the option set to “Require Startup PIN With TPM” or Windows won’t allow you to remove the PIN.
Next, open a Command Prompt window as Administrator and run the following command:
manage-bde -protectors -add c: -TPM
This will replace the “TPMandPIN” requirement with a “TPM” requirement, deleting the PIN. Your BitLocker drive will automatically unlock via your computer’s TPM when you boot.
To check that this completed successfully, run the status command again:
manage-bde -status c:
If you forget the PIN, you’ll need to provide the BitLocker recovery code you should have saved somewhere safe when you enabled BitLocker for your system drive.
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