Last Updated on March 18, 2021 by Calvin C.
A USB flash drive is an external storage device and like something out of a spy movie, it can be used as a physical security key. In this article, we look at how you can lock and unlock a computer with a USB flash drive.
Background of a USB Flash Drive
To make sure we are referring to the same thing, a USB flash drive is also called:
- Data stick
- Thumb drive
- Jump drive
- Pen drive
- Memory unit/stick
- Key chain drive
The storage capacity of a USB flash drive varies and nowadays it’s not surprising to find a storage capacity exceeding 1 terabyte!
Although the primary function of a flash drive is to store data, it can also be used as a key to lock or unlock your computer.
This adds an extra layer of security because without the flash drive plugged in, one cannot log in.
- Your contents stored on the flash drive are not affected by this operation, so you can use your primary drive.
If you have a limited number of ports, it’s best to use a USB hub.
- Advantages of a physical key:
- More secure than a password
- No need to memorize a password, although nowadays you can use a password manager to store passwords securely.
- Easier to use
- Disadvantages of a physical key:
- You can lose the flash drive
- If someone wants to use your computer, you have to hand over your security key.
- You have no access to the USB port with a flash drive.
How do you enable the security feature?
This feature works on Windows and on Mac although the steps to set it up are a bit different.
However, in both cases you achieve the same result, that is, to be able to use your computer only when the flash drive is in.
This is more secure than using a password alone.
For Windows, there is a program called Predator that used to be free but it’s now paid.
This program enables you to use a USB flash drive to lock your computer when the drive is removed and vice versa.
1. Download Predator and install the software on your computer.
2. Launch Predator and then insert your USB flash drive.
3. A dialogue box appears prompting you to create a password. Click OK.
4. In Preferences, enter a strong password in the “New Password” section and keep it safe.
This password is used to log in if you lose your USB flash drive.
You can also check the “Always Required” box if you want to enter the password every time you plug in the USB flash drive.
5. Under “Flash Drives” select the right drive and click “Create key” then OK.
6. The program will exit and an icon appears in the taskbar.
7. Click the Predator icon to restart the program and it should turn green to show that it’s running
8. Predator checks to see if the USB is plugged in every 30 seconds and if it’s not, the screen dims and the computer is locked.
- Points to note:
- You can stop Predator anytime from the taskbar
- Predator keeps a security log of anyone who tries to log in.
- You can even take a snapshot of an intruder if there is a webcam
- One USB flash drive can unlock multiple computers
You can do the same for a Mac by using a different software called Rohos Key Logon.
With this software, you use a USB flash drive or even a mobile device to unlock your computer.
It’s cross-platform and that means it even works with Windows.
There is a free-trial available so that you appreciate the features before getting the full paid app.
Here’s how you set it up on MacOS:
1. Download and install Rohos Key Logon. Restart your Mac to complete installation.
2. Launch “Rohos Key Logon” via an icon on the Menu bar to open the main window
3. In the main window, click on “USB Drive” and make sure the flash drive is plugged in.
4. Next, you will be asked to enter your system password and select the right USB flash drive then click OK.
5. In the next window, select from the drop-down menu what action your Mac must take when the flash drive is removed.
- Tip: Don’t choose “Nothing” because it’s less secure. Instead, select “Lock Desktop”
For hardcore security, you can increase the security level using the following further steps:
6. Go to the Rohos Key Logon icon in the Menu bar and select “Preferences”.
7. Check “Allow login only by USB key”
This is very secure but it means if you lose your USB or if it is damaged you won’t be able to log in.
It’s safer to keep the option for a password active but it has to be a strong password.
For that, I recommend NordPass password manager.
That is how you lock and unlock a computer with a USB flash drive.
Extra security is important is you are working with sensitive data because you lose a lot if it lands in the wrong hands.
Another way to increase security particularly if you go online a lot is to use a reliable VPN.
This VPN encrypts your traffic and hides your identity online.
Our VPN of choice is NordVPN because of its numerous security features and reliability
- 30-day money-back guarantee
- 30-day free-trial
- 68% off the 2-year plan (recommended plan)
- Other top VPNs are as follows:
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