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Connecting to Public Wi-Fi Hotspots Securely

How to encrypt a Windows computer with VeraCrypt

Encrypt My Devices

How to encrypt a Windows computer with VeraCrypt

We recommend that you upgrade to a version of Windows that will support native BitLocker encryption (e.g. Windows 10 Education, Pro or Enterprise). If this isn’t an option, and the version of Windows on your personally-owned computer does not support BitLocker (e.g. Windows 10 Home), then you can encrypt your computer using VeraCrypt. These instructions will help you install and configure VeraCrypt.

VeraCrypt is a technical tool and it is very important to follow all steps carefully. Depending on your level of technical knowledge, you may not be comfortable doing this. If you are concerned, don’t do anything to your computer yet and please contact us at [email protected] We will respond back to you with options and advice for your situation. We are working with our software vendor on the possibility of licensing a version of Windows that supports BitLocker (i.e. Windows 10 Education) for home use by faculty and staff, but it will still take time for a final decision and process.

What you will need:

  • Your computer and your charger
  • An external hard drive
  • A power source
  • A blank CD / DVD (recommended if you have an optical disc drive)
VeraCrypt is also available for many versions of Mac and Linux. You can download VeraCrypt software packages and find installation instructions on the VeraCrypt website.

Please follow the instructions below for your specific operating system to encrypt your computer. Encryption can be risky if not done right, and it is essential that you follow the instructions carefully. If you have any questions, please contact [email protected]

Stage 1: Check if your computer has already been encrypted

If your computer is already encrypted, don’t encrypt again.

Stage 2: Back up your computer

Do not encrypt until you have backed up your computer! If you do not back up your computer and issues are encountered during the encryption process, you will risk losing your data.

Stage 3: Download and enable VeraCrypt to encrypt your device

Do not encrypt until you have backed up your computer!
  1. Download VeraCrypt from the VeraCrypt website. Go to https://www.veracrypt.fr and click on ‘Downloads’ and then choose the Windows Installer. Once downloaded, run the installer.
    Install VeraCrypt
  2. Select the ‘default opening options’, and then select ‘Install’. Leave the defaults only and click ‘Install’.  VeraCrypt will now install (this process may take a few minutes).
  3. Once installed, launch VeraCrypt from the desktop shortcut.
  4. Ensure your computer is plugged into a power source. Unless prompted, do not turn off your computer during this process.
  5. Within VeraCrypt, choose the ‘System menu’, and select ‘Encrypt System Partition / Drive’.
    Encrypt System Partition or Drive
  6. Choose ‘Normal’ and click ‘Next’
    Type of System Encryption.
  7. Select ‘Encrypt the whole drive’ and click ‘Next’, choose ‘No’ for ‘Encryption of Host Protected Area’.
    Area to Encrypt
  8. Select Single-boot (unless you boot multiple Operating Systems on this computer).
    Number of Operating Systems
  9. Leave the encryption defaults as-is (AES and SHA-256).
    Encryption Options
  10. Enter a password. It is critical that this password is something which you will remember.
    1. It is recommend that you also save a copy of this password to your personal network storage drive (UBC Home Drive – Vancouver; F: Drive – Okanagan), so that University IT Support Staff can assist you in the event of an incident.
    2. It is recommended that you store this password in a second location, in a safe place off of the computer you have encrypted, preferably in multiple safe places. See the options available to users to store their encryption recovery keys in the Encryption FAQ.


This step is very important. If you do not know your device password and you lose access to your VeraCrypt password, there is no way to access your data. See the options available to users to store their encryption recovery keys in the Encryption FAQ.
  1. Move your mouse around the screen, as directed, until the progress bar turns green before clicking ‘Next’ to pass the Collecting Random Data screen:
    Collecting Random Data
  2. Click ‘Next’ when presented with the ******* keys.
    Keys Generated
  3. It is recommended that you create a rescue disk at this step. Choose a location to save the rescue disk file.
      1. A USB key or a network storage location is recommended – you will also be prompted to burn a copy to CD if your PC is capable of burning disks. Do this if possible.

    Rescue Disk

  1. Select wipe mode as ‘3-pass’ and then click ‘Next’.
    Wipe Mode
  2. Select ‘Test’. You will be prompted to reboot.
    System Encryption Pretest
  3. During the reboot, enter your password (from above) and hit ‘enter’ when prompted for PIM (key).
    PIM Prompt
  4. Presuming the test completed, click Encrypt to begin encrypting the drive. This process may take several hours.
    Pretest Completed

How to encrypt an external USB drive using VeraCrypt

  1. Insert the USB drive, then launch VeraCrypt from the desktop shortcut.
  2. Open the ‘Volumes’ menu, and choose ‘Create New Volume’.
  3. Choose ‘Encrypt a non-system partition/drive’, click ‘Next’, then select ‘Standard VeraCrypt Volume’.
  4. Choose ‘Select Device’ and choose the entry for your USB key that includes a drive letter:
    Select a Partition or Device
  5. Choose ‘Encrypt partition in place’ (if device contains data) or ‘Create encrypted volume’ (if device is blank).
  6. Leave defaults in place for ‘Encryption details’ (AES / SHA-512), click ‘Next’.
  7. Create a password. Make sure that this password is something which you will remember. You want to save this password in a secure location.
  8. Move your mouse as directed until the Random Data progress bar turns green, then click ‘Next’.
    Collecting Random Data
  9. Select ‘3 pass’ for the Wipe Mode, and then choose ‘Encrypt’ (this may take some time).
  10. Close the presented information screens.
  11. This will encrypt your device, but not connect (mount) it to this system. To do this, with VeraCrypt open, select an available drive letter from the list and click ‘Select Device’.
  12. Choose the USB drive from the list (choosing the entry that includes a drive letter), click ‘Mount’ and enter the password you entered earlier in the process.
  13. To mount this drive on other systems, you will need to use VeraCrypt. A portable version of the program (does not require install) is available from the VeraCrypt website under ‘Downloads’.

You can access Wi-Fi hotspots almost anywhere these days. While it’s a convenient way to connect to the internet (often for free), it’s not as safe as you may think. You may not know who set it up, how secure it is, or who else is connecting to it. There are significant security risks when connecting to an unknown Wi-Fi hotspot. It’s relatively easy, for example, for a malicious actor to see everything you type and every site you visit on an unsecured network.

Where you can’t use your phone’s internet connection instead, there are some simple things to consider and steps you can take to protect your data and personal details when accessing a publicly available Wi-Fi hotspot.

Check Whether You Can You Trust the Provider

While no publicly accessible Wi-Fi network is entirely secure when you do use them, try to stick to well-known networks (for instance, those provided by the store or coffee shop you’re in). Ask yourself why someone would provide a free service and whether they might have a nefarious reason for doing so.

Some hackers use hotspot names that are similar to the names of the location you’re in use. If unsure, ask an employee for the name of the hotspot that they provide.

Don’t automatically connect to any available free hotspots – in fact, it’s good practice to disable this feature on your phone or other devices. For instance, some devices can join other unencrypted wireless networks without your intervention and transfer information; it’s a good idea to close apps you’re not using and/or limit their ability to go online in the background.

Try Not to Access Sensitive Information While Browsing

Even where a trusted source provides a Wi-Fi hotspot, some forms of attack (called ‘man in the middle’) can eavesdrop on your online activity by intercepting data between your computer and the hotspot’s router. The best way to protect yourself against this attack is to use websites that implement encrypted communication (which are labelled HTTPS rather than HTTP). You can also use a Virtual Private Network (VPN) which does the same thing for all your communications (see below).

The best thing to do is assume that someone is listening to (or watching) your web browsing and limit the browsing you do so that it does not include providing personal or sensitive information such as your email address or phone number. In particular, do not conduct tasks like electronic banking or making purchases online through an insecure network as your financial details could be stolen.

Turn Off File Sharing Options and Avoid Downloads

You should disable features on your device that enable easy file-sharing, printer, or network access (such as Airdrop). This ensures that no-one can access your files or send files you don’t want to your device. You should also avoid sending any files that you don’t want anyone else to have access to. As stated above, the best thing is to assume that someone can see these files. Also, don’t download files or install applications or apps when using a hotspot unless it’s necessary.

Using a VPN

If you deal with sensitive information and need to access Wi-Fi regularly (such as when traveling), then the best option is to use a VPN service. VPNs encrypt all data traveling to and from your device through a secure server, and they make it almost impossible to intercept and read your data. While this is best practice for business users and others that deal with sensitive information, it’s probably not a practical option (and not free) for the average user who wants to use a Wi-Fi hotspot from time to time.

The next-generation Wi-Fi security protocol (WPA3) will include built-in security protections for accessing networks through wireless hotspots. Until then, keep the above points in mind when accessing an unknown Wi-Fi network to ensure your security.

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