How to password protect a Windows file or folder – part 1

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I recently got this email from a podcast listener:

Dear Scott, I live in Dubai and I enjoy your weekly podcast, which is simple and informative. Please keep up the good work! Scott, could you please cover in a future podcast how I can create (in Windows 10) a normal file folder but one that can be password protected. So, for example, if I hand over my laptop to a friend or colleague, I can simple shift my personal files to that folder and then move them back when I need to. Or else, all those files that are private I can file in my password protected folder and not have to worry about password protecting each and every file. Can you help? Best wishes and thanks once again for a great podcast. Regards, Faisal

lock a folder

 

Thanks for the great question, Faisal! I know the podcast is heard all around the world but I’m still a little taken aback when I hear from listeners from so far away as Dubai.

There are actually a couple of ways to protect a file from being viewed by some other person – a low-security way, and a high-security way. Both are free, and neither one is very difficult. I’ll talk about the low-security process today, and next Monday I’ll go over the more secure process.

The low-security way to protect a file or folder

This process does not require any other software other than Windows, and it will work on Windows 7, 8 or 10. It is based on the premise that a nosy person can’t peek at a file if they don’t know it exists.

Now, I should say up front that this method will not stop anyone that is even a little bit tech-savvy or knows a little bit about how Windows works. But it would be effective for a large percentage of computer users.

Let’s say if you go into your computer and open the Documents folder, you see the following folders:

lock files

Does anything there stand out to you? Of course, the “Private files” folder. Anyone who’s even a little curious would probably click on that to see what’s in there. Which is exactly what you DON’T want them to do.

So what you need to do is HIDE that folder so that it’s still there, just not visible in that list.

It’s easy to do that. Just do a RIGHT click on the folder name, and choose Properties at the bottom of the menu. In the new window, under the “General” tab, check the box labeled “Hidden” and click OK:

lock files

 

Now if you look at that same list of folders, this is what you see:

lock folders

 

Keep in mind, you didn’t DELETE that private folder, you simple designated it as HIDDEN. So no one sees it, not even you.

“Great, Scott. But now how do it get it back?”

In order to see it again and access it, you have to tell your computer that you want it to display any files or folders that are designated as “Hidden”.

To see the “hidden” files and folders, go to Control Panel and click on Folder Options (in Windows 10, it’s called File Explorer Options). Then click the View tab, and check the button that says “Show hidden files, folders and drives” and click OK:

lock folders

 

Now go back to the list of folders and here’s what you see:

lock files

 

You can kind of see that the “Private” folder is visible, but the icon is a different color than the other icons. That is just the indication that the folder is designated as “hidden” but you can still see it because you told the computer to show you the hidden files.

If you want it to not be seen at all, just go back to the previous step and choose “Don’t show hidden files, folders or drives”.

Like I mentioned earlier, and you can probably tell, this is not a very secure way of keeping someone out of your private files and folders. Anyone that knows how to tell the computer to display hidden files will be able to find that private folder. Only you can decide if this method is sufficient for you. Two factors to consider:

  1. How critical is it that no one sees that file or folder?
  2. How “computer smart” is the person you’re trying to hide it from?

If the file is super-duper private, or the person might know how to do what I just showed above, you probably won’t want to use this method. A week from now, I’ll show you another process that uses a free piece of software and it’s much more secure.

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Patrick
September 12th, 2016

As always, great tip. I am looking forward to Part 2. Thanks again for all your hard work.