What is FileVault And How to Encrypt Your Mac Disk with It

Cassie Xie
Last updated: May 6, 2024

This post introduces the FileVault disk encryption on Mac. By the end, you'll understand how FileVault works, whether it's essential for you, and how to turn it on or off on your Mac.

Nowadays, Apple has implemented comprehensive hardware and software security measures to safeguard the information you store on a Mac computer. One crucial measure involves encrypting the Mac's hard disk and Apple FileVault disk encryption serves as a key method.

This article delves into the FileVault disk encryption feature on your Mac and tells you how to use it to encrypt your Mac hard drive.

What is FileVault Disk Encryption on Mac And How to Use It

What is FileVault Disk Encryption?

FileVault is Apple's proprietary disk encryption technology built in macOS. It encrypts the entire disk on your Mac to prevent unauthorized users from accessing data on the disk without the encryption password or recovery key.

Introduced in Mac OS X Panther (10.3), the first version of FileVault provided basic disk encryption for user home directories with AES-128 encryption. However, it lacked the capability to encrypt the entire disk, leaving other system files and data vulnerable.

With the release of Mac OS X Lion (10.7), Apple introduced FileVault 2, a significant overhaul of the original FileVault. FileVault 2 offered full disk encryption using XTS-AES-128 encryption. FileVault 2 also introduced the ability to use a recovery key or iCloud account for unlocking FileVault-encrypted disks.

Is your Mac running out of storage space? Try the best Mac cleaner, BuhoCleaner, to reclaim gigabytes of space in just a couple of clicks.
DownloadFor macOS 10.10 and above
100,000+ Satisfied Users Worldwide

How Does FileVault Work on a Mac?

FileVault doesn't activate automatically on your Mac, and you'll need to manually activate it. When FileVault is enabled, it begins encrypting existing files on your Mac's hard drive and continues encrypting new files in the background. You can continue using your Mac as usual while it is encrypting your data.

In the encryption process, FileVault generates an encryption key stored securely in the Secure Enclave or firmware. Each time you start up your Mac, wake it from sleep, exit a screensaver, or access specific system preferences, you'll be prompted to enter your user account password. Once your Mac is unlocked, the disk encrypted by FileVault will be decrypted.

During the initial setup, you can choose between using a recovery key or your iCloud account for unlocking encrypted disks if you forget your user account login password.

Related Article: Forgot Your Apple ID Password on iPhone and Mac? 5 Fixes

Should I Use FileVault Disk Encryption?

We strongly advise Mac users to leverage this native security feature to safeguard their data.

If you have an Intel-based Mac released before 2019, enabling FileVault is essential, especially if you share your Mac with other people, like co-workers or family members. In addition, with FileVault enabled, even if someone gains physical access to your Mac's disk when your Mac gets stolen or lost, they won't be able to access your data without the encryption key.

If you own a Mac with Apple silicon or an Apple T2 Security Chip, your data is automatically encrypted even without FileVault in place. While it might seem unnecessary if you're the sole user of the Mac, enabling FileVault adds an extra layer of security. There's no such thing as being too careful when it comes to protecting your data.

How to Enable FileVault on Mac

Now that you understand what FileVault is and how it can protect your data, the answer to the question "Should I turn on FileVault disk encryption?" becomes clear.

The initial encryption process may take some time if you have a large amount of existing files on your Mac. To ensure a smooth process, it's recommended to keep your Mac computers such as MacBook Air and MacBook Pro connected to a power source.

Step 1. Go to Apple Menu > System Settings > Privacy & Security.

Step 2. Scroll down and choose FileVault.

FileVault Disk Encryption on Mac

Step 3. Click the Turn On button.

Step 4. Enter your login password and click Unlock.

How to turn on FileVault on Mac

Step 5. Choose if you want to use your iCloud account or create a recovery key to unlock your disk.

Step 6. Click Continue. If you choose to use your iCloud account to unlock your disk, the encryption process will start instantly. Alternatively, if you're creating a recovery key, you'll get a 24-character code. Make sure to save it securely on your Mac or write it down. Then, click Continue to begin FileVault encryption.

FileVault Recovery Key

How to Turn Off FileVault on Mac

If you decide to stop encrypting your startup disk on Mac, you can turn off FileVault disk encryption at any time. Once you disable this feature, encryption will be deactivated, and all data stored on the startup disk will be decrypted.

Step 1. Go to Apple Menu > System Settings > Privacy & Security.

Step 2. Scroll down and choose FileVault.

Step 3. Click the Turn Off button.

Step 4. Click Turn Off Encryption to confirm.

How to turn off FileVault on Mac

FAQs on Apple FileVault Disk Encryption

When exploring the Mac FileVault feature, you might come across other queries. Here are some commonly asked questions along with their answers.

What is the FileVault recovery key?

The FileVault recovery key is a unique 128-bit (usually 24-character) alphanumeric code randomly generated during the encryption process when FileVault is enabled on a Mac. It serves as a backup method for unlocking an encrypted disk in case you forget your user account password or encounter issues accessing your encrypted data.

How to change the password of FileVault disk encryption?

By default, the login password and FileVault password are the same on your Mac. If you change or reset your user account login password, the FileVault password changes and resets accordingly, and vice versa.

To change the FileVault password, open Apple Menu > System Settings > Users & Groups > your account. Click the information icon and click Change next to Password.

Does FileVault disk encryption slow down my Mac?

If you're using a newer Mac, such as those with Apple silicon M series chips, FileVault works very fast. The first setup of FileVault will encrypt your Mac startup disk instantly and later perform live encryption seamlessly. There is no noticeable difference in performance or functionality while you are using your Mac.

On older Macs, however, FileVault does affect disk and overall Mac performance due to limited CPU processing capabilities. The initial encryption process may take several hours to complete, depending on the computer's condition and the amount of data stored on it.

How long does FileVault encryption usually take?

The time it takes to encrypt your Mac hard drive with FileVault can vary significantly between several minutes to up to 24 hours. It all depends on several factors, including the size of your Mac's hard drive, the speed of your Mac's processor, the amount of data stored on your disk, and the overall performance of your system.

Conclusion: Keep Your Mac Data Safe

The FileVault disk encryption feature on Mac is renowned for its robust security and effectiveness in safeguarding data. By following the steps in the guide to activate it, you can shield your Mac from unauthorized physical access to your personal files and system data. Additionally, you can discover how the XProtect and Gatekeeper features on your Mac further enhance its security by defending against malicious software.

Cassie has been writing about technology for her entire career life - over 5 years. She enjoys diving into how Apple products work and then breaking it down in a way anyone can understand.