Your computer likely has at least a file or two of sensitive information that you don't want anyone to get their hands on. It could be a personal work document or a digital file with all of your passwords. Either way, you always want to take extra steps to ensure that your most important information is as secure as possible. Systems like Windows or macOS allow you to password protect a folder so that anyone who uses your laptop can't just look at those sensitive files.
If you ever need help with saving passwords, then you should consider one of the best password managers out there.
Windows 10 Pro folder encryption
If you're running Windows 10 Pro, there's a protection system built in, but it's not the most complete feature. Windows 10 Pro's standard encryption provides file obfuscation that locks a file from your account. That way someone in another account, or someone who's copied your files to another PC and is trying to access your content, needs to know your account password (which better not be one of the most common passwords).
However, anyone using your PC and account will still have access.
Step 1: Right click the selected file and choose Properties from the drop-down menu.
Step 2: Click on Advanced.
Step 3: Check the box next to Encrypt content to back up data and click OK.
Step 4: Click Apply and, when prompted, choose whether to encrypt all folders in this directory or just the top-level folder. When you've made up your mind, click OK.
It may take a while for the process to complete, depending on the size and contents of the folder. Once complete, your data will be encrypted and protected from the prying eyes of other users on another account or system. You can tell by the small padlock icons in each file that this works. Your folder and all of its data are now password protected by your account.
Password to protect Windows folders with 7-Zip
While Windows 10 Pro may have some protective features, most versions of Windows don't include any folder-specific security. Most Windows users will require a third-party archive utility or compression software to add a password to a folder.
Options include 7-Zip, an open-source zip file compression utility available free of charge courtesy of Russian developer Igor Pavlov. It does a great job of protecting your more critical data with a password. You'll need to uncompress the folder before using it, but it's a small price to pay for security.
Step 1: Navigate to the 7-Zip download page and select the right download for you. Most users should opt for the 64-bit x64 Windows build. Once downloaded, install and run it like any other software.
Step 2: Find the folder you want to password protect in the 7-Zip main interface and click the green additional icon in the upper left corner of the application. Alternatively, you can drag and drop the folder anywhere in the 7-Zip main interface.
Step 3: If you ignore the majority of the preferences in the pop-up that appears, choose zip from the drop-down menu right next to the Archive Format option to ensure the folder remains compatible on computers without 7-Zip installed. Then enter your desired password for the folder in the text boxes on the right side of the window and enter it again. Click the OK button when you are done and let the utility create a compressed, encrypted duplicate of the folder that you want to password protect.
Step 4: After creating the password protected zip file, test it to make sure it is working properly by attempting to access the content inside. Once you know it is protected, delete the original folder so that it can no longer be found. There is no need to have two instances of the same data, especially since the original folder is left unprotected.
Adding password protection to folders in macOS
As with most versions of Windows, Apple's macOS lacks the native ability to add password protection to folders. However, what you lose in convenience you definitely gain in security – just don't forget an antivirus program. If you add a rudimentary password, you'll need to create an encrypted disk image using the operating system's native Disk Utility – an app that comes pre-installed on almost all Mac devices.
Once created, the folder can be accessed as a mounted virtual hard disk. This allows you to edit, add, and delete content after entering a set password. Any changes you make while mounting the hard drive are automatically encrypted and password protected when you drag the hard drive to the trash.
Step 1: Open Finder and click on the application folder listed on the left.
Step 2: Scroll down and open the Utilities folder to launch Disk Utility on the following screen.
Step 3: With the app open, click File in the menu bar and then click New Image in the drop-down menu. From the rollout menu, choose Image From Folder.
Step 4: Find the folder you want to password protect, highlight it and click the Select button in the lower right corner of the window.
Step 5: Once the selected folder is highlighted and named, choose Read / Write from the Image Format drop-down menu, followed by 128-bit AES Encryption from the Encryption drop-down menu.
Step 6: Enter and verify a password, then click Select. Then click on Save. Disk Utility will create the password-protected image and let you know when it is ready.
Step 7: After the tool creates your image, make sure that it works as intended by trying to access the content. Once it has been confirmed that it is protected as intended, delete the original folder so that it can no longer be found.