Got some files you don’t want other people to see? Or maybe they’re just cluttering up your Documents folder, and you want to hide them? Here are a few different ways to obscure your files, and when you might want to use each.

Editor’s Note: This article, originally published in 2014, used to contain instructions that claimed to password protect folders without extra software. But that trick, while mildly clever, did not actually protect anything behind a password. It involved hiding a folder on your system and using a “password” to unhide it—even though any user could still unhide it without the password. You can still find this trick all over the internet, but we do not recommend using it. It causes loads of problems for many users who don’t know what they’re doing, and the password does nothing to protect you from snoopers—you might as well just hide the file. So, we’ve rewritten the article with instructions on how to hide and/or password protect files, with information on how secure each method really is.

Option One: Hide Any Folder with a Single Checkbox

Difficulty: Very Easy
Level of Obscurity: Low
Level of Security: Low

If you’re just looking to hide a couple of folders from view, Windows has a built-in option to do so. This isn’t very good protection against snoopers, because anyone can show hidden folders with a simple settings tweak. It might fool a small child, but it won’t fool anyone with even passing knowledge of computers.

I have, however, found this setting useful for folders I don’t want to see—like the folders my PC games add to my Documents folder. I only want to see my documents, I don’t need to see my Witcher 3 save files.

RELATED: How to Hide Files and Folders on Every Operating System

If that sounds like what you want, the process is really easy. Open Windows’ File Explorer and navigate to the folder or file you want to hide. Right-click on it, select “Properties”, and check the “Hidden” box in the menu that appears. Click “OK” and the folder will disappear from view.

Check out our guide to hidden files for more detailed information on hidden files in Windows.

RELATED: How to Show Hidden Files and Folders in Windows

If you ever need to access it later, you can show hidden files by clicking the View menu in File Explorer and checking the “Hidden Items” box. (in Windows 7, you’ll have to go to Organize > Folder and Search Options and select “Show Hidden Files, Folders, and Drives” on the View tab instead.) You can read more about showing hidden files and folders here.

Remember: this won’t secure your files at all, it will just hide them from view. Anyone with the tiniest bit of know-how can easily find them.

Option Two: Turn a Folder Into a Hidden System Folder with a Command Prompt Command

Difficulty: Medium
Level of Obscurity: Medium
Level of Security: Low

Let’s say your snooping sister already knows how to show hidden folders and files in Windows. Who doesn’t, right? Well, there’s another trick that will let you hide a file with a bit of extra obscurity. Anyone will still be able to unhide it if they know what setting to tweak, so this method is not secure—but it doesn’t require extra software and may give you a little extra obscurity from tech-unsavvy individuals.

RELATED: Make a Super Hidden Folder in Windows Without any Extra Software

You can read more about this process in our guide to making a “super hidden” folder. Keep in mind that it requires a bit of command line work, so if you aren’t comfortable working with the Command Prompt and dealing with some of Windows’ deeper settings, this probably isn’t for you.

Again, we can’t stress this enough: this method is still incredibly insecure. Anyone who knows what they’re doing (or even stumbles upon this very article) will be able to find your files with ease. We wouldn’t use it for anything truly sensitive. For that, we recommend our next two options.

Option Three: Encrypt a File or Folder Without Extra Software

Difficulty: Easy
Level of Obscurity: Low
Level of Security: Medium

The only secure way to hide your files is through encryption. Encryption turns your data into an unintelligible mess unless you have the password. Windows contains a built-in way to encrypt files, and ties the password to your user account—so you can only see the files if you’re logged in as the right user.

RELATED: Geek School: Learning Windows 7 - Resource Access

You can see instructions for this in the “Encrypting Files Using the Encrypting File System” section of this guide (you’ll have to scroll down to the last section to see it). All you need to do is right-click on a file or folder, select Properties, go to Advanced, and check the Encrypt Contents to Secure Data checkbox.

The only downside to this method is that it links the encryption to your user account. That means if your snooping sister tried to open the files from her Windows account, they wouldn’t open—but if you share an account, or if you step away from your computer while you’re logged in, she’d be able to see them just as easily as any other file on the PC. So make sure you lock the computer or log off every time you step away, or that encryption won’t stop anybody.

Option Four: Create a Password-Protected Folder with VeraCrypt

Difficulty: Medium
Level of Obscurity: Low
Level of Security: High

If you need something a little more bulletproof than the above, we recommend creating a password-protected file container with VeraCrypt. It takes a few more steps, but it’s still quite easy, and doesn’t require you to be super tech-savvy. And, unlike the above option, it’ll ask you for your password any time someone tries to access the files—no matter who’s logged in.

RELATED: How to Secure Sensitive Files on Your PC with VeraCrypt

Check out our guide to VeraCrypt for step-by-step instructions on how to set up a password-protected file container. You’ll need to download a program and run through some quick setup, but as long as you follow the steps closely, you should have no problem—and your files will be protected from just about anyone that tries to access them. Just make sure you don’t forget the password, or you might get locked out of your files too!

We know it isn’t always convenient to download extra software, but trust us: if you have something you want to hide, it’s absolutely worth it. Unlike Option Three, this will always ask for a password when you try to access the files—so even if you’re logged in or someone uses a live CD to access the computer, they won’t be able to get to your files. Just be sure to unmount the VeraCrypt container when you’re done using it, or they’ll be accessible to anyone if you step away from the computer.

These aren’t the only way to hide or password protect a file in Windows, but they are some of the more popular. You could also use something like 7-Zip to encrypt files, though that’s more ideal if you want to send the files to another person. The above four methods should work for most people, so good luck—and stay secure.

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Whitson Gordon is How-To Geek's former Editor in Chief and was Lifehacker's Editor in Chief before that. He has written for The New York Times, Popular Science, Wired, iFixit, The Daily Beast, PCMag, Macworld, IGN, Medium's OneZero, The Inventory, and Engadget.
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