How do I password protect my files and folders in Windows?

Tip: Before password protecting any document you may want to create a backup of the non-password protected folder and files in case you forget the password in the future.

The majority of Microsoft Windows operating systems do not come with a method of password protecting your sensitive files and folders. If you're using Microsoft Windows 3.x, Windows 95, Windows 98, you need to download or purchase a third-party program to password protect your files and folders in Windows; skip down to the other security solutions section if you're using one of these operating systems.

Microsoft Windows XP professional users
Microsoft Windows XP home users
Other security solutions for protecting your files and folders in Windows
Things to remember when encrypting or password protecting files and folders

Microsoft Windows XP professional users

The steps below for encrypting the files on Windows XP professional applies to users who are using a computer that has different accounts. If you are using a single account see the other security solutions section.

  1. Select the folder you want to encrypt.
  2. Right-click the folder and click Properties.
  3. Click the Advanced button.
  4. Check "Encrypt contents to secure data" option.
  5. Click Apply and then Ok.

Encrypt contents to secure data is grayed out

This will be grayed out if you're using the home edition of Microsoft Windows XP. See the steps below for securing the contents of your folders in Windows XP home.

Show "Encrypt" on the context menu

The newest version of TweakUI also enables you to show the Encrypt option in the context menu. To do this, follow the steps below.

  1. Open TweakUI.
  2. In the TweakUI window, select Explorer
  3. In the right side of the window under Settings, locate Show 'Encrypt' on context menu and check the box. This option should be below Prefix 'shortcut to' on new shortcuts and above Show 'View workgroup computers' in NetPlaces.

Microsoft Windows XP home users

  1. Select the folder you want to encrypt.
  2. Right-click the folder and click Properties.
  3. Click the Sharing tab.
  4. Check the box Make this folder private
  5. Click Apply and then Ok.

Make this folder private is grayed out

In order for this option to work in Microsoft Windows XP home you must meet the below requirements.

  1. The hard drive must be formatted in NTFS and not FAT32 File System.
  2. The folder you're attempting to encrypt must be in your own personal folder. For example, if your name is bob, you must be encrypting a folder that is or that is contained within the below folder:

    C:\Documents and Settings\Bob\

    You cannot encrypt any folders outside of this folder. If you want to encrypt outside this folder see the below other security solutions.

Other security solutions for protecting your files and folders in Windows

File and folders not frequently used

If you need to password protect files or folders that you do not frequently use, one of the simplest ways is to compress the folder and files with a compression utility and password protect the compressed file. However, each time you want to work or modify the files you need to uncompress the files using the password.

Windows ME and Windows XP users - Microsoft Windows ME and Windows XP come with their own compression utility. This utility can also be used to compress and password protect files.

Tip: When a file is compressed, users can still view a listing of the files in the compressed file. If you want for both your file names and the contents to be hidden, move all the files into a single folder and password protect that folder.  

File and folders frequently used or accessed

If you need to password protect or encrypt data you frequently use, you need to install a third-party program that allows you to protect your files and folders. Below are some free and commercial solutions.

  • AxCrypt - An excellent free encryption utility that enables users to encrypt all files within a folder and not allow those files to be viewed unless a passphrase (password) is known.
  • WinCry - A freeware utility that enables your files to be encrypted, secure deletion, as well as other helpful methods of protecting your files.
  • Folder Guard - A commercial version of a password protection software that enables you to password protect files, folders, and other Windows resources.

Click here to search for more solutions to password protect files and folders in Windows.

Things to remember when encrypting or password protecting files and folders

  1. There is no such thing as a 100% protected file. There are numerous tools, utilities, and instructions for how to break encryption and passwords on files. However, the protection methods listed above will protect your files from the majority of users who may encounter them. If you are working with really sensitive data we suggest a commercial product for protecting your files and data.
  2. Even though a file or folder may be password protected it still can be deleted (unless the program supports the ability to protect files from being deleted). Always remember to backup all your files, even those protected by passwords.
  3. If you forget the password, unless you're willing to spend the time attempting to break it or pay someone else to break the password, all your file data will be lost. Unless you've made a backup of the non-password protected data.

Additional information