Your PC has some files you’d like to keep private. Encryption is the best way to protect them from snoopers, but if that’s too much hassle you could simply hide their folders, so that they’re no longer visible from Explorer.
This isn’t enterprise-grade security, of course – your files may be hidden, but they’re still on the drive, in their original form, and a determined attacker could retrieve them. But if you just want to keep something out of sight of friends or family, and they’ve no reason to suspect you’re hiding anything in the first place, the technology could work very well.
Wise Folder Hider is a free tool which makes this all very simple. If you’d rather no-one found your C:\Secrets folder, no problem: right-click it, select the “Hide Folder with Wise Folder Hider” option and it’s gone.
If you need to access the contents of your folder, open Wise Folder Hider, double-click it in the list, and it opens as usual. (The program is password-protected so no-one else can do this.)
As a bonus, the program also has options to hide files or entire USB drives, and any of your protected objects can be restored in a couple of clicks.
Wise Folder Hider didn’t always work as expected. We couldn’t hide files if we browsed them to them via a library, for instance (Music\File.mp3 = no, C:\Users\UserName\Music\File.mp3 = yes), and it didn’t recognise a USB drive on our test PC.
The program hid our folders just fine, though, no matter how we tried to access them, and the chance of protecting files and USB drives makes it worth a try.
Anvi Folder Locker Free asks you to enter your email address during setup, so that they can send you a forgotten password. We were impressed by this professional touch, until we realised that using the service would cost $9.95.
The program itself works much like the competition: right-click in Explorer, choose the “Lock…” option and it’s removed. Easy.
There are lots of variations in the protection on offer, too. You can hide a folder, lock it, make it read-only, password-protect it, or of course restore it to normal, just by selecting an option from a list.
There’s also a handy Enabled/ Disabled button which toggles protection on and off for all your folders at once.
The one big problem with all of this is it doesn’t work in Safe Mode, at least on our test 64-bit, Windows 8.1 system: all our hidden folders were visible. If you’re just trying to keep files away from people who might occasionally access your PC then this might not be a huge problem – but we’d still keep it in mind.
Secure Folders worried us initially with its dubious default settings. The program isn’t password-protected unless you explicitly set this up, and it also won’t protect you in Safe Mode unless you find and enable that option (Settings > Advanced Settings, if you were wondering).
Once you’re configured properly, it all looks much better. You can protect folders from Explorer or a console, and there are plenty of options. You’re able to hide a folder, lock it, make it read-only, even non-executable (you could prevent any programs being launched from a given drive).
What’s more, add programs to the “Trusted Applications” list and they’ll be able to see and access your protected folders as normal. That’s convenient, although it will also reduce your security (anyone else who runs those applications will also be able to see the files).
There are also some neat extras in the Settings dialog, like an option to remove Secure Folders from the Windows “Recently Used” applications history, and the ability to import and export your protected files and trusted program settings.
Which is best? Wise Folder Hider is the most versatile, able (in theory) to hide files, folders and USB drives. But if you can live with folder-hiding only then Secure Folders is your best bet, being easy to use, configurable and with some very helpful bonus features.