USB Flash Drives: Encryption Guidelines

Sometimes it is handy to save files to a USB flash drive (aka "USB key", "thumbdrive," or "jumpdrive"). It can get tricky, however, when transferring files from a Columbia College computer encrypted with BitLocker or GuardianEdge.


By default, USB flash drives used with Columbia College computers must be encrypted. While not recommended, exemptions can be made on a case-by-case basis in coordination with CCIT.

CCIT Guide

Columbia College adheres to CUIT's requirements for devices used to access sensitive data. In particular, the requirements state:

13. If sensitive information is stored on the workstation (e.g., in the form of reports, spreadsheets, or other files), then the local hard drive and any external storage devices (such as USB drives) must be encrypted...

Columbia College also respects the University's Encryption Policy

Naturally, not all work within the College computing environment involves sensitive information.  However, given the extent that its users access student data, CCIT encrypts:

  • Computers used by individuals who (1.) use the PowerFAIDs financial aid application, (2.) access HR systems that require SSNs, and/or (3.) handle University e-commerce account transactions, and
  • Computers running Windows 7.


All files copied to a USB flash drive from a BitLocker-encrypted computer must be encrypted.

Before requesting an exemption, determine if you can meet your needs with Terminal Services ("TS") or VPN, particularly if your needs involve remote access. Contact ccit@columbia.edu with questions.

Provided the user of the computer that the USB flash drive connects with does not utilize (1.) PowerFAIDs, (2.) HR systems, or (3.) University e-commerce, some scenarios may warrant an exception. For example:

  • You would like to use a USB flash drive to transfer files to another device where network access is not available -- for example, for an offline Powerpoint presentation.
  • You plan to distribute USB flash drives to participants in a program containing files or documents relevant to the program.

Requests for exemption can be submitted to ccit@columbia.edu and may be granted on a case-by-case basis.