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How to password protect a folder

Everyone has their secrets. Although they might not be juicy enough to overthrow an overly-corrupt government or the kind that may lead to our own inevitable prosecution, many of us possess a myriad of sensitive files and folders we’d rather not be seen by the likes of friends, family and colleagues who happen upon our computer. Whether you want to shield your forthcoming Christmas list from the prying eyes of nosy children or merely keep your finances and business plans hidden from others, there’s plenty of reasons for seeking password protection for the private data housed within your PC. After all, you wouldn’t want little Jimmy finding out you purchased him a Furby Boom before the big reveal … where’s the fun in that?

Though it may seem to be a simple task, neither Windows nor Mac OS X features native utilities specifically designed for password protecting folders. Thankfully, there are a handful of workaround methods for doing so on both operating systems, each of which is relatively simple to understand, quick to implement and freely available to users. One requires third-party encryption software, the other a built-in disk utility, but both will render your folders inaccessible to the average user or snoopy passerby. No batch-script tampering or premium folder-lock utilities are required either.

Here’s our guide on how to password protect a folder in Windows and Mac OS X in a matter of minutes. Also, check out our extensive guide on how pick a strong password so you can keep would-be hackers at bay and thwart potential threats. No need to ruin Christmas for everyone.

Skip ahead to password protection on Mac OS X.

Windows Banner

As previously mentioned, most popular versions of Windows are utterly devoid of any folder-specific protections. You might be able to rename, share, optimize inner content and manually specify who can access a folder, but adding a basic password requires a third-party archiving utility or some form of compression software. For our purposes, this guide will rely on the ever-so-popular 7-Zip, an open-source zip compression utility readily available as a free download courtesy of Russian developer Igor Pavlov. You’ll  may be required to decompress the folder before use, but that’s a small price to pay for password protection.

Step 1: Download, install and launch 7-Zip — Navigate to the 7-Zip download page and select the download link corresponding to your desired version of the archival software. Alternatively, select your desired version of 7-Zip from the table below, or simply download the latest standard executable file. Afterward, when in the installer, select your desired destination folder for the utility and click the Install button in the bottom-right corner of the window. Click the Finish button when done and launch the program.

Download Link Type Windows Description
Download .exe 32-bit x86 7-Zip for 32-bit Windows
Download .msi 32-bit x86 7-Zip for 32-bit Windows
Download .msi 64-bit x64 7-Zip for 64-bit Windows x64 (Intel 64 or AMD64)
Download .msi IA-64 7-Zip for IA-64 Itanium CPU
Download .exe ARM 7-Zip for Windows Mobile / Windows CE (ARM)
Download .zip 32-bit 7-Zip Command Line Version
Download .tar.bz2 Any 7-Zip Source code
Download .7z 31-bit 7z Library, SFXs for installers, Plugin for FAR Manager
Download .tar.bz2 Any LZMA SDK (C, C++, C#, Java)

Step 2: Open the folder in 7-Zip — Once opened, locate the folder you wish to password protect within the main 7-Zip interface. To do so, peruse the resulting folder directly, highlight said folder and click the green addition sign in the upper-left corner of the application. Alternatively, drag and drop the folder anywhere within the main 7-Zip interface.

Zip open

Step 3: Adjust settings and set password — Ignoring the bulk of presets in the resulting pop-up window, select zip from the drop-down menu directly right of the Archive Format option to ensure the folder remains compatible on computers without 7-Zip installed. Afterward, enter and re-enter your desired password for the folder in the text fields located on the right-hand side of the window, directly beneath the Encryption section. Click the OK button when finished and allow the utility to create a compressed, encrypted duplicate of the folder you wish to password protect.

Add Password Zip

Step 4: Remove the original folder — Once the password-protected folder has been created, delete the original folder so it can no longer be accessed. There’s no need to have two instances of the same data, especially since the original folder will remain unprotected. Test to make sure the resulting, compressed file is password protected. You may still be able to view file and folder names, but extracting the files will require your users to enter your designated password when prompted. Feel free to breathe a sigh of relief.

Password Protected Windows

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