How to Password Protect a Folder

Secure your information from prying eyes

How to password protect a folder

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There are several security measures that you can put in place to protect the important files and information stored on your Mac or PC. The most common is to lock your computer whenever you’re not using it, requiring a password to bypass the login screen.

You can even take this safekeeping a step further by password-protecting individual folders, which can come in especially handy when you’re using a shared laptop or desktop. Taking the following steps will help ensure that access to your sensitive files will require a password each and every time.

Password Protect a Folder in Windows  

There are several ways to protect a file folder with a password in Windows. Unfortunately, the most effective method and therefore the one that we suggest involves utilizing a third-party application to do so. The program that we recommend is 7-Zip, a free open source file archival utility which also allows you to protect individual folders with a password - the only catch being that you need to compress the folder as well. Follow the instructions below to protect your important folders with 7-Zip.

  1. Download and install 7-Zip from the official website.

  2. Launch the 7-Zip application.

  3. Browse within the 7-Zip interface until you locate the folder that you wish to password protect.

  4. Select this folder and then click on the Add button, located in the upper left-hand corner and accompanied by a green plus symbol.

  5. The Add to Archive dialog will now be displayed, overlaying the main 7-Zip window. In the Encryption section, enter the desired password twice in the fields provided. 

  6. You can also modify other attributes of the compressed folder while you're here, including the archive format itself (7z by default). Once the password has been entered and you're satisfied with the other settings, click on the OK button.

    how to password protect a folder in Windows
     Screenshot from Windows
  7. At this point only the newly-created archive file is protected by a password, so you'll want to delete the original folder via Windows Explorer. If you don't delete the original, it essentially defeats the purpose of following the steps above.

Going forward, anyone attempting to view the files within the archive as well as anyone attempting to extract the archived files will be prompted to enter a password.

Using the Folder Encryption Feature in Windows

If using an outside application isn't your thing, there may be an alternative available depending on which version of Windows you're running. If you have Windows 10 Professional Edition, for example, there is an integrated encryption feature that can help add some level of security to your most sensitive folders. 

Take the following steps to determine whether or not you have access to this feature.

  1. Open Windows Explorer and locate the folder that you wish to encrypt. Right-click this folder.

  2. When the pop-up menu appears, click on Properties.

  3. The properties for the folder in question should now be displayed. Click on the Advanced button.

  4. The Advanced Attributes dialog will now appear, possibly containing a section called Compress or Encrypt attributes. If available, there will be an option in this section labeled Encrypt contents to secure data. Place a check mark next to this option by clicking on it once.

    How to encrypt a folder in Windows
    Screenshot from Windows
  5. Click the OK or Apply button and choose the desired settings when prompted.

  6. Your folder and its contents will now be encrypted and will only be accessible by your account. Be forewarned, however, as someone logged in with your Windows account will be able to access this folder without a password.

Password Protect a Folder in macOS

Mac users can password protect individual folders without the need for any third-party software, thanks to the operating system's Disk Utility app. 

  1. Open the Disk Utility app, typically found in the following path: Applications > Utilities.

  2. Click on File in the Disk Utility menu, located at the top of the screen.

  3. When the drop-down menu appears, hover your mouse cursor over the New Image option.

  4. A sub-menu will now appear to the right. Click on Image from Folder.

  5. A Finder window should now be visible. Traverse your hard drive until you find the folder that you want to protect with a password. 

  6. Select that folder and click on the Open button.

  7. A sliding window will now be displayed containing a number of configurable options, including where to save your newly-created image file. Enter the desired name of your password-protected folder in the Save As field.

    how to password protect a folder in macOS
     Screenshot from macOS
  8. Select the following option from the Encryption drop-down menu: 128-bit AES encryption (recommended).

  9. You will now be prompted to enter a password twice. Once complete, click on the Choose button.

  10. Select the following option from the Image Format drop-down menu: read/write.

  11. Click on the Save button.

  12. Your password-protected folder image will now be created. Once complete, you should see a message stating Operation successful. Click the Done button.

  13. At this point only the newly-created image file is protected by a password, so you'll want to delete the original folder via Finder. If you do not delete the original, it essentially defeats the purpose of following the steps above.

When accessing your newly-protected folder, a disk image containing its files will be created after your password is successfully entered - typically located alongside the protected archive itself. Once you are done accessing the folder's contents, it is important that you delete this disk image by dragging it to the trash. If not, you leave its contents exposed without any password protection.

Encryption vs. Password-Protected Files and Folders

Now that you know how to protect your individual folders and files, it's important to know the difference between encryption and password protection. When a folder or set of files is protected by a password, the data within them is not altered or rearranged in any way. This level of protection requires a user to enter a password to gain access to these files.

When these same files are encrypted, however, the data associated with them is essentially scrambled in a way that prying eyes would have an extremely tough time deciphering it in any way. In order to arrange said data back to its unencrypted form, you would typically have to enter a passcode or password. The main difference here is that if someone were to gain access to these files in their encrypted form and they did not know the encryption key or passcode, the contents would be unreadable and virtually useless to them.