How To: Encrypt A USB Drive

So, today’s article will be a bit different, as I answer a question posed to me by way of the contact form – which is how to encrypt a USB drive. Being the nice guy I am, I answered the question. As I’m also often busy (or lazy), I also decided to turn this into an article. Why not?

I normally frown on people asking me questions directly. My usual suggestion is that they visit a forum and ask there. I usually direct them to, where there’s a good forum filled with all sorts of smart people. That’s usually a sufficient answer, but this time I had a few spare minutes and typed out a response to them.

First of all, this was their question (I’ve removed all the superfluous stuff):

How would you encrypt a USB drive?

There were several sentences, a preemptive thanks, and some commentary about reading the site regularly. I decided to tackle this question but I was limited strictly to text because I was using email as my format.

But, if we start with the question, we can see an immediate problem. The question was ‘how would you’… Well, I’d crack open the terminal and use a tool called cryptsetup. That’s what I’d do. It’s a great tool and I’m familiar with its use.

However… That’s not what I’d suggest to the person asking the question. I did mention this to them in my reply, leaving the door open for more questions or for them to hit up their favorite search engine. Instead, I detailed another way to encrypt a USB drive. Yes, they used the word ‘drive’ and not ‘thumbdrive’. That doesn’t matter.

How To Encrypt A USB Drive:

The first thing you’re going to need for this is ‘Gnome Disks’. So, let’s go ahead and ensure you’ve got that installed, open your terminal by pressing CTRL + ALT + T and install the application. If you’re using apt you’d use the following command, but you’ll need to edit it for your package manager. (It’s almost certainly available in your default repos.)

Using Gnome Disks is a good idea. It’s fairly ubiquitous, easy to install, and doesn’t pull in a ton of dependencies when you install it. That means you can easily use Gnome Disks with pretty much any desktop environment out there with ease and very little fanfare.

Now, insert the USB drive. Don’t worry if it automatically mounts. Gnome Disks is smart enough to deal with that. Any data on this disk will be lost. It will be irrevocably lost. There’s no ‘oops’ button involved.

With Gnome Disks now installed (do not ask me why the command to open the application is different than the command to install the application), you can open it with the following:

There you go, you’re in a GUI now. You won’t need the terminal for anything else. (This would be easier with images, but I couldn’t really include images in the email reply without a lot of work and them potentially never even seeing the images due to reading the email in plain text format.)

On the lefthand part of the Gnome Disks window, pick the USB drive you want to encrypt.

On the right-hand part of Gnome Disks, click on the ‘gears’ icon and select the ‘Format Partition’ option.

Add a name for your encrypted USB drive in the next window. Then, say it is an internal disk (it’s all good) and tick the button to password-protect the volume.

In the next window, you will type your password twice. You’ll type it once and then type it again below that. This is to make sure you typed it properly. It’s a good idea to remember this password, ’cause this isn’t something you can just back out of and still have your data.

At this point, Gnome Disks will give you a warning about data loss. In the upper right, click the ‘Format’ button. Be certain about what you’re doing because this will erase data. Gnome Disks doesn’t care if the drive contained the only copies of your child’s birthday pictures.

Gnome Disks is kinda like a wolverine. Approach it with caution because it does not give a crap about your feelings.

Assuming the winds are in your favor, you should now have an encrypted USB drive. Test this by unplugging your USB drive and plugging it back in. When you plug it back in, it should ask you for a password. Enter your password to ensure you typed it properly in an earlier step. If all goes well, enjoy your encrypted USB drive.


By the way, happy Mother’s Day (for those who qualify).

And so, that was more or less my answer to the inquisitive user. I don’t mind questions. I just don’t always have time for that, and often don’t know the answers. Of course, I did make a few changes. The actual reply I sent them was worded a bit differently in places. I think the above reads better and is more concise.

In this case, I think I got it right and they were able to encrypt their USB drive. I haven’t heard back from them since. It’d be nice if they let me know but they left me hanging. Ah well… If it’s wrong, someone will leave me a comment!

Thanks for reading! If you want to help, or if the site has helped you, you can donate, register to help, write an article, or buy inexpensive hosting to start your site. If you scroll down, you can sign up for the newsletter, vote for the article, and comment.

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How To: List USB Devices

Today’s article might look like a funny headline, where the subject would be how to list USB devices. Today, we’ll have a relatively short article. It’s not complicated and you’ve already learned how to list USB devices! Wait-a-minute!

After all, you’ve already been told how to do this. In fact, I’ve written an article on this very subject! See:

A Little About The ‘lsusb’ Command.

That article covered how to list USB devices, using the lsusb command. Right?

Yes. Yes, it did.

But, this is Linux and there’s another command that doesn’t get enough attention. In fact, I’d wager (a small amount) that many of you wouldn’t have used this command before. 

What is this mystery command? It’s really easy to remember. It’s not complicated, it’s simply “usb-devices”. On the man page, the command describes itself as:

usb-devices – print USB device details

Sure enough, that’s what it does. But, unlike the ‘lsusb’ command, this command spits out a whole lot more information by default. There’s not a whole lot more to say about it, and I’m making this article extra short. So…

List USB Devices:

As implied in the opening part of this article, you’re going to need an open terminal. If you don’t know how to open the terminal, you can do so with your keyboard – just press CTRL + ALT + T and your default terminal should open.

With your terminal now open, simply run the command:

If you check the man page, you’ll find that that’s it. There’s nothing special to do with this command, you just run it. The man page contains this:

usb-devices is a (bash) shell script that can be used to display details of USB buses in the system and the devices connected to them.

It might be the easiest command you’ll ever run – and it’s also easy to remember. So, why is it so unknown? Well, we use ‘lsusb’ for listing USB devices and the command doesn’t rank well in search engines, but it’s at the bottom of many such articles. It also doesn’t do much more than list USB devices, as it’s just some sort of a built-in bit of shell scripting.


So, I figured I’d do an extra short article today. Why not? We’ve done some longer articles lately, so we might as well try the super-short format. It helps that I didn’t dive off-topic or the like, but simply explained how to list USB devices. Do you have any thoughts on articles in this shorter format?

Thanks for reading! If you want to help, or if the site has helped you, you can donate, register to help, write an article, or buy inexpensive hosting to start your site. If you scroll down, you can sign up for the newsletter, vote for the article, and comment.


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A Little About The ‘lsusb’ Command.

Today’s article will not be all that long or all that complicated, as we’ll just be learning a little about the ‘lsusb’ command. It seems like a good idea to cover it now, early in the year. I’ve been meaning to get to writing this article for a while.

Over the next few days, you will probably see some similar-looking articles. This is just the start. There are other similar commands and we’re going to cover those. Many of my readers will know some (or all) about these commands, and that’s okay. After all, our goal is getting people up to speed.

Today’s command will be the ‘lsusb’ command. If you check the man page, it’s described accurately – like so:

lsusb – list USB devices

As you can see, you use the ‘lsusb’ command when you want to learn about your system’s USB buses and the devices connected to them. You shouldn’t need to install anything. The ‘lsusb’ application is almost certainly available by default.

We probably won’t be covering all the ‘lsusb’ options. We’re just going to cover those options that you’re most likely to use. There’s always the man page for when you want more options. There’s really no need to get to deep in an article like this.

About The ‘lsusb’ Command:

The ‘lsusb’ command is a command that’s run only in the terminal. So, of course, you’ll need to have an open terminal available. If you just press CTRL + ALT + T and your default terminal should open. Tada! It’s pure witchcraft!

With your terminal now open, the simplest form of ‘lsusb’ is to just run the command without any flags. Like so:

You’ll likely get an output similar to this:

output from the 'lsusb' command
This is just the ‘lsusb’ output from a handy laptop. It’s pretty basic, with nothing connected.

As you can see, it’s not always just the actual USB ports on the side of your device that are USB devices. In the above screenshot, you can see that the wireless card, webcam, and Bluetooth devices are all on the USB bus. They’re not actually connected to a physical USB port, they’re just using the same underlying tech without actually having physical ports.

There are other things you can do with ‘lsusb’, like view the output in tree format. This is great if you’ve got things like USB hubs with things attached to them. It’s good organization and the command is simply:

The only other ‘lsusb’ command you’re likely to use is the ‘verbose’ mode. Like oh so many other applications, that’s the -v flag. The command looks like:

This is not to be confused with lsusb -V – which will show you the version. If you do that, you’ll also learn that the ‘lsusb’ command is a part of the ‘usbutils’ package. 

There’s not all that much more to the ‘lsusb’ command. Those are the ‘lsusb’ commands I’ve found myself using more than any others. They’re also the most used commands I’d ask a user to run when diagnosing a problem with their USB devices. If you want, you can learn more by checking the man page:

There’s more information in the man page about running the ‘lsusb’ command. Feel free to check it out and ask any questions needed.


I’m going to cover some pretty basic stuff in the next few articles. I may intersperse them with other articles, so that folks don’t get bored. Don’t be bashful, leave a comment or two if you want. I love getting new comments and the site’s starting to grow quite nicely. Get your comments in early!

Thanks for reading! If you want to help, or if the site has helped you, you can donate, register to help, write an article, or buy inexpensive hosting to start your own site. If you scroll down, you can sign up for the newsletter, vote for the article, and comment.

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balenaEtcher: A Tool To Turn Linux .ISO Files Into Bootable USB Drives

balenaEtcher is a free software tool used to write .ISO files to USBs so that you can boot from them and install Linux. balenaEtcher is just one of many tools to do this, but it is both simple and effective. That makes it fit for purpose and is why it is getting its own article.

You’re going to need a blank USB drive, like a thumb drive. Well, it needn’t be blank but it should be. It needs to be large enough to meet the requirements of your distro – usually 4 GB is adequate. Larger is fine.

You’re also going to need the correct .ISO from the distro you’re trying to install. I have no way of knowing what that is, so here’s an article about picking the distro that’s right for you. You should verify the integrity of the .iso to eliminate it as a source of problems.

You’re also going to need to know how to boot to USB. That link will take you to an article that covers that, and includes DVD. It covers booting to something other than your default drive.

Finally, you’re going to need balenaEtcher. Head to this page and scroll down. If you scroll down, you’ll see many download options. It’s available for everything from Linux to MacOS.

Download the correct version for the operating system you’re currently using. If you download the AppImage, be sure to make it executable before trying to run it. Either way, you’ll need to download balenaEtcher (maybe install it) and then run it. That’ll vary depending on your OS, but they even have .deb and .rpm files available.

All set?

Let’s Use balenaEtcher:

With all those pieces in place, balenaEtcher is fairly self-explanatory. I’m going to assume you got it to work properly. If you can’t get it installed or running from the AppImage, just leave a comment and I’ll talk you through it for your system. You can also ask on

It’ll look something like this when you first open it.

balenaEtcher pick a file
In this case, you’ll pick “Flash from file”.

Then, you’ll click ‘Flash from file’ and doing so will let you navigate to and select the .iso you want to use. Do so, being sure to get it correct.

Next, you’ll select the target. The target in this case means the USB drive that you want to write the .iso to. So, that will be the smaller flash drive in most cases and will look something like this:

balenaEtcher in action
Select the right flash drive. Be very careful at this stage! This step can go horribly wrong!

There’s just one step remaining! You need to click the Flash button and wait for it to do its job writing the .ISO to the USB drive. It looks like this:

balenaEtcher in action
Click the ‘flash’ option and wait patiently while it does its job.

That could take a little while, though not all that long if you’re using USB 3.0. On USB 2.0 it takes a bit, so be prepared to wait – but not terribly long. 

When this is all done, just close the program and your new USB device should be ready. You should be able to boot your computer, select the USB drive as the boot device, and then install Linux. Most of the time, it goes just swimmingly. If it doesn’t, ask for help.

Again, don’t forget to verify the integrity of the downloaded .ISO before you do any of this. The process for doing that varies, and the distro will tell you how on their download page. Have fun installing Linux!

I’ll probably eventually take the screenshots of me installing Linux in a virtual machine, but I haven’t done that article yet. It seems like a good future article to write.


Well, there’s another article. This is just a nice, quick article. It’s handy for when you need to know how to use balenaEtcher, or when you need to tell someone else how to use it. It’s one of the articles I’d expect to see people linking to on a regular basis. “Hey, this is how you use Etcher!”

Thanks for reading! If you want to help, or if the site has helped you, you can donate, register to help, write an article, or buy inexpensive hosting to start your own site. If you scroll down, you can sign up for the newsletter, vote for the article, and comment.

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How do I ‘Boot to USB’? (Or CD/DVD, if Such is Available)

In order to install Linux, you need to be able to boot to USB (or CD/DVD – with USB being more common these days and many devices not even having CD/DVD drives). The goal of this article is to help you boot to USB or to optical media, so that you can install or repair your Linux system.

To install Linux you pretty much have to boot to USB or to a CD or DVD. It’s true, you can actually install directly from your regular disk drive, but that’s a convoluted method that few people will ever need. I may cover that method at some point, but today is not that day!

You may also need to boot to a live Linux instance for other reasons. Maybe you need to repair your installation? Perhaps you need to grow your partition because you have run out of room? Or, just maybe, you need to recover your data so that you can do a fresh installation – or so that you can start the recovery from your backed up data?

It’d be rather pointless to enumerate the many reasons why you’d want to boot to USB. There are many reasons and it’s a skill you’re going to need. Trust me, you need to know this stuff.

I say USB because that’s the most common today, but you may also need to boot to CD or DVD. Your hardware may actually be so old that it won’t even let you boot to USB. So, for the sake of this article, let’s just assume you’re booting to some form of external media, be it USB, optical media, or even an SD card. No matter what you’re trying to boot as an alternative media, the process is pretty much the same.

Booting to USB

Booting to USB, what’s the purpose? The purpose is to install or repair an already running system. It means booting to something other than your default internal drive (under normal configurations) and using that booted media to effect change on your system.

As I said above, there are many reasons why you’d want to do this. It’s a pretty common thing, especially among Linux users. There are many questions asked about this process and I’ve decided to document the methods here.

However, there’s no way I can possibly make this article truly definitive. In fact, I’d appreciate it if you’d help. In the comments section, fill in the blanks for me. You have hardware that I may not have access to, so you can tell us what works for your hardware and the article will be a more complete source of information. It’s your time to shine!

How to Boot to USB

In order to boot to USB, you have to have fairly good timing – or a willingness to sit there and pound on the same key over and over again. In a traditional sense, you’re aiming for a boot selection menu that you can access after POST (Power On Self-Test) and that split-second before the OS starts its boot sequence.

You’re not trying to access the BIOS, you’re trying to access the boot selection menu and there’s a narrow window to get it right. The good news is that the key to access the BIOS is different than the key to access the alternative boot menu. So, a good working strategy is to press the right key on your keyboard over and over again during boot while hoping for the best.

The question is, which is the right key? You don’t want the BIOS menu, unless you plan on changing it permanently. You only want the temporary boot menu, which another animal entirely.

So, I have a bunch of hardware. I also have a search engine. I’ve made an attempt to find the temporary boot menu keys and to document them all in one place.

The list of keys!

     Acer: ESC, F2, or F12
     Apple/Mac: OPTION
     Asus: F8 or ESC
     Compaq: ESC or F9
     Dell: F12
     HP: ESC or F9
     Lenovo: F8, F10, or F12
     MSI: F11
     NEC: F5
     Packard Bell: F8
     Samsung: ESC, F2, or F12
     Sony: F1, F2, or F3
     Toshiba: F12

NOTE: This list isn’t exhaustive nor is it completely accurate. In some cases, you may need to actually enable this in your BIOS. Samsung, for example, will not show the temporary boot selection menu unless you’ve first disabled “Fast Boot”. Other OEMs may require similar changes.

The above keys should get you into the temporary boot menu, where you can choose to boot to USB, CD/DVD, an external drive, a microSD card, or whatever. It’s an essential step in both booting and repairing your Linux computer. It’s a good idea to memorize it once you know which one works for you.

As I mentioned above, you can help. If you have a device that’s not listed, please let me know in the comments. Some manufacturers have more than one way to access the screen, so be sure to let me know if your device is different. The more data we get, the more people we can help.

Thanks for reading! As always, feedback is fantastic, you can sign up for the newsletter, and you can donate. You don’t have to donate. The site will remain online regardless, but you can help cover the costs. If I keep this schedule up, we should have a new article in two more days – so stay tuned!

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