There's a false belief that computers are safe because accounts are password-protected. However, that's not entirely true as users that share a computer can easily access each other's files or folders. If a device is stolen, then a criminal will be able to remove the stolen computer’s hard disk and install it on another device, gaining access to everything stored on the disk. For these reasons, confidential documents should always be protected by a password.
How to Password Protect Files and Folders on macOS
Mac users that are running Mac OS X 10.6 Snow Leopard or later can protect their data without needing third-party software. To do so, they have to:
- Open the ‘Applications' folder
- Open the ‘Utilities' folder
- Open ‘Disk Utility'
- Click on ‘File'
- Select ‘Image from Folder' under ‘New Image'
- Select the folder you wish to protect and click ‘Open'
- Click on the ‘Image Format' option menu and select ‘read/write'
- Click on the ‘Encryption' menu and select the desired encryption algorithm
- Enter the desired password, verify it, and click ‘Choose'
- Name the locked disk image and click ‘Save'
- When the operation completes, click ‘Done'
After all the steps, the folder is then turned into a password-protected image file with a DMG extension. When you open the file, it will open the way a disk normally would, meaning that you can add new documents to your heart’s content before ejecting it.
How to Password Protect Files and Folders on Windows
Windows users are not as lucky since there isn't a direct way to password-protect files or folders. There are, however, a few workarounds that you can do without having to pay a dime.
Password Protect Files by Creating a Small Program
One of the ways to protect folders with a password is by creating a small program yourself that can then be executed through the Windows commands. Laptop Mag has a thorough step-by-step guide on how to do this and, if you follow the instructions carefully, you won't have any problems creating the program yourself. However, take into account that it isn't a bullet-proof solution and can be reverse engineered by someone who understands the process.
Password Protect Files on Windows Through Encrypting ThemEncryption
Windows Pro users have the functionality to encrypt files and folders. To do so, they need to:
- Right-click on the file (or folder) you want to encrypt
- Select ‘Properties’
- Click on the advanced button under the ‘General' tab
- Check the box ‘Encrypt contents to secure data'
- Press ‘OK'
- Click ‘Apply’
After following these steps, everything inside the folder will be encrypted using your account username and password. However, this is far from perfect. Although other accounts using the computer won't be able to open the encrypted files, anyone that has access to your profile and logs in with your account can open the files with no issues.
Password Protect Files by Zipping Them
Another free option is by zipping the files or folders that require protection. This process requires an extra step compared to the other options, but it's also the most reliable solution. After downloading and installing a file archiver such as 7-Zip, you'll have to:
- Right-click on the folder (or file) to encrypt
- Select ‘7-Zip' and then ‘Add to archive'
- In the ‘General' tab, under ‘Encryption', enter the password twice
- Select AES-256 under the ‘Encryption method' for better security
- Select ‘OK'
When you're done with the steps above, a compressed folder will appear. If anyone tries to extract the files, the software will ask for a password before displaying the compressed data. Bear in mind that it's imperative to delete the original data after ensuring that you've done everything correctly, and all files are inside the compressed folder. Also be aware that this process, and those mentioned earlier, do not protect the files from being deleted, even without having to enter a password.
If you don't want to go through so much trouble, then the best you can do is get a piece of software that specializes in creating passwords for files and folders. Although password managers don't focus on this, some of them offer a dedicated space on their vaults for encrypted files. Users that take this route will have their confidential data hidden behind a master password, protecting all information from everyone that doesn't have the key.
Using Password Managers to Remember Files Passwords
For higher security, you should create complex and unique passwords for each file/folder that requires protection. The main problem is that remembering so many difficult sequences is impossible for the human brain, and if you forget the code, you'll no longer be able to access the information ever again. So, getting a password manager to store all your files' passwords is advisable. Furthermore, if you need to send the password-protected files to someone, password managers are also one of the most secure ways to share the decryption key.
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