How to Encrypt and Password Protect Files and Folders on Your Computer

Protecting sensitive files and folders on your computer is critical to maintaining privacy and security. There are several methods available to encrypt and password protect files and folders, both built into operating systems like Windows and macOS as well as through third party software.

Why Encrypt and Password Protect Files?

There are a few key reasons why you may want to encrypt and password protect certain files and folders:

  • Privacy – Encryption scrambles data so it cannot be read without the proper decryption key or password. This prevents unauthorized access to sensitive personal or financial documents.
  • Security – Password protection adds an extra layer of security by requiring authentication to access protected files and folders. This provides protection even if encryption is somehow cracked.
  • Compliance – Some regulations like HIPAA require the use of encryption to protect sensitive patient health data. Encrypting files can help meet compliance mandates.
  • Portability – Encrypted files can safely be stored in the cloud or transferred without worrying about data leaks if devices are lost or stolen. The data remains scrambled without the decryption key.

Built-in Encryption in Windows

The simplest way to encrypt a file or folder on Windows is to use the built-in Encrypting File System (EFS). Here are the basic steps:

  1. Right click on the file or folder and select Properties
  2. Go to the Advanced tab and check “Encrypt contents to secure data”
  3. Click OK and Apply to save changes

This will encrypt the selected file or folder using your Windows account credentials. Only your user account will then have access with your login password.

One limitation is that EFS encryption only works on NTFS formatted drives. So external USB flash drives will need to use NTFS to allow encryption.

Third Party Encryption Tools

Some limitations of built-in Windows encryption include the inability to work cross-platform and lack of control over encryption keys. Third party tools like Veracrypt and AxCrypt can provide enhanced encryption capabilities.


Veracrypt is a free, open source disk encryption tool that lets you create encrypted containers or encrypt a partition or storage device. Key features include:

  • Cross-platform – Works on Windows, MacOS, and Linux
  • Full disk encryption
  • Encrypted containers for storing files
  • Full control over encryption keys and algorithms (AES, TwoFish, Serpent)


AxCrypt is a simple file encryption tool for Windows, with installers also available for MacOS and mobile devices. Features include:

  • Secure key management
  • Configurable key lengths up to 256-bit
  • Portability across devices with installed AxCrypt software
  • Integration with cloud storage services like Google Drive and Dropbox

The advantage of third party encryption tools is the ability to use longer encryption keys, more encryption algorithms, and to more easily share encrypted files across devices and operating systems. The downside is they require installing and learning how to use an additional piece of software.

Password Protecting Folders

To add an extra layer of security, you can password protect encrypted folders. This requires a password to be entered in order to view folder contents.


Native options to password protect folders are limited in newer Windows versions. But you can still protect folders using compression software like 7-Zip or WinRAR.

To password protect a folder with 7-Zip:

  1. In File Explorer, right click the folder and select “Add to archive”
  2. In Archive format, select “7z”
  3. Set an Encryption password
  4. Add optional Encryption settings
  5. Click OK to create the protected 7z archive file

You can double click the encrypted 7z file to open the folder again, which will require entering the password.


On MacOS, you can create an encrypted disk image to protect a folder using Disk Utility. Or use a third party tool like Knox to password protect folders.

To password protect a folder with Knox:

  1. Drag the folder to encrypt onto the Knox app icon
  2. Enter a password to encrypt the folder
  3. Access the folder again at any time by double clicking on it

This creates an encrypted .knox bundle that requires your password to unlock and view the folder.


Encrypting and password protecting important files and folders provides an added layer of security on top of existing OS account security. Just make sure to always remember passwords and encryption keys that are used, with no easy way to recover data if they are lost.

Following best practices like using encryption alongside password protection, enabling longer key lengths, and using trusted software will go a long way toward keeping sensitive data secure.