One of the best ways of keeping others from accessing your personal or sensitive information is to password-protect files and folders. If you’re using a Windows 10 PC, you probably have much stored on it like photos, videos, financial documents, and more. These are prime targets for malicious intent, which is why you need to secure them as a basic security step.
Windows has a native encryption feature that lets you keep your documents safe from snoops, but you can use third-party encryption software for really sensitive information.
Follow along to learn how to password-protect files and folders in Windows 10.
Password-Protect Windows 10 Files and Folders
Using Windows Built-In Encryption
To do this, follow the steps below:
1. Open File Explorer and right-click on the file or folder you want to password protect, and then select Properties.
2. Select Advanced.
3. Next, click “Encrypt contents to secure data” and click OK.
4. Click Apply to begin the encryption process.
5. You’ll get a pop-up asking if you want to encrypt only that folder, or the folder, sub folders and files.
6. The next prompt will ask you to back up the encryption key so you can use it to access your files or folders in case you lose access to them. Choose Back up now.
Once you’ve backed up the key, your file or folder is now secured with an encryption key tied to your Windows user account. This way, anyone else trying to access the file or folder will only see jumbled text instead of the actual contents of the file or folder, whether they’re accessing it from a different user account or removing your hard drive.
After the file or folder is encrypted, you can click Details next to the checkbox to view details about the available recovery procedures and encryption certificate.
Note: if you want, you can reverse the encryption by going back to Properties, opening Advanced Attributes and unchecking the “Encrypt contents to secure data box.”
It’s also important to note that this method isn’t for high-level security for your files or folders, but if you’re using a shared PC and don’t want other user accounts to access some files or folders, it’ll come in handy.
Using Windows BitLocker
The first method of password-protecting your files or folders isn’t strong enough because you need to remember to lock your account every time you’re away from your computer.
To resolve this issue, you need stronger protection, which you can get by enabling Windows’ BitLocker feature. Although BitLocker comes with the Pro and Enterprise editions only, it provides full-disk encryption for peace of mind.
There are two steps to using BitLocker: set up a virtual disk and then enable BitLocker.
Set up a Virtual Disk
1. Click Start and type “Disk Management” on the search bar. Click Create and “Format Hard Disk Partition” to open Disk Management.
2. Click Action.
3. Click “Create VHD.”
4. Click Browse to choose where you’ll store the virtual disk. Give the drive a name, for example Disk 2, and then click Save.
5. Next, go to the “Virtual hard disk size” section and choose the space you’d like reserved for storage based on the content you want protected.
6. Select “Dynamically expanding” for storage to adjust as you save files and click OK.
7. Right-click Disk 2, then select “Initialize Disk.”
8. Check Disk 2 and select Master Boot Record (MBR). Click OK.
9. Click on the white space, and click New Simple Volume. Click Next and use the default settings for volume size, then click Next again.
10. Use “Assign the following drive letter” to choose a drive letter, then click Next.
11. Next to File system, select NTFS.
12. Next to Allocation unit size, click Default.
13. Next to Volume label, type a name for the drive.
14. Check “Perform a quick format,” and clear “Enable file and folder compression.”
Click Next and then click Finish to create a virtual hard disk you can password-protect with BitLocker.
Once you set up the virtual hard disk, you can treat it as a folder. Then set up BitLocker on the disk using these steps:
1. Open “Control Panel -> System and Security.”
2. Click on BitLocker Drive Encryption.
3. Select folder_vault drive under Fixed data drives.
4. Next, Turn on BitLocker and check “Use a password” to unlock the drive.
5.. Create a password for protecting the folders within the drive and click Next.
6. Click Save to a file and choose a location where the recovery key will be stored. Keep this file secure, because if you lose the recovery key or forget the password, you can’t recover your files.
7. Click “Save -> Next,” select “Encrypt used disk space only,” and click Next.
8. Select “Compatibility mode -> Next.”
9. Click “Start encrypting,” wait for the encryption to complete, and then click Close.
You can now use the virtual disk to password-protect your content.
How to Unlock Your Folders with a Password
To unlock your folders:
1. Open File Explorer and go to the folder_vault.vhd file. Double-click the VHD file to mount it.
2. Click This PC, and then double-click the drive under Devices and drives. In the sign-in page, type the password you used to lock the drive. If you forget the password, click “More Options -> Enter recovery key” and type the recovery key (48 digits) in the text file.
3. Click Unlock and access your files and folders.
You can lock them again by clicking “File Explorer -> This PC,” right-clicking BitLocker drive under Devices and drives and selecting Eject.
If none of the methods above work for you, you can also try Cloak Encrypt to encrypt files without a password. In addition to password-protecting your files and folders, you can encrypt your USB drive on your Windows 10 PC.