We would like for Microsoft to release a Windows version that allows users to password protect specific folders that contain sensitive data. Until that happens, if you want to do this, you have to use third-party software made by other companies. Even though there are plenty of programs to choose from, most of them are very annoying. We made an extensive research and tested more than 20 programs of this type. In this article we would like to recommend the best five tools for the job.
LocK-A-FoLdeR - Free
LocK-A-FoLdeR is the perfect solution for absolute beginners. It uses only a single master password and it has a very minimal user interface. Also, it doesn't offer any settings that you can fiddle with.
After you have selected the folders that you want to protect, all you have to do is close the application.
Instead of using encryption, this program simply hides the folders from any user who might try to access them. To restore access to your protected folders you will have to reopen the program and use the unlock button.
A very good thing about LocK-A-FoLdeR is the fact that it doesn't need any services to run in order to keep your folders private. It is both easy to use and free.
Download link: LocK-A-FoLdeR.
Folder Guard - Commercial
This is one of the best programs we have tested in this roundup. It has a lot of features and all of them work well. You can protect files and folders using individual passwords or you can choose to simply lock and hide them. The interface looks good, it is well structured and easy to use. You can drag and drop the folders that you want to protect or you can use the tree view to select them. A really nice feature is that it allows you to create filters for different kinds of files so that they will be automatically protected. Also, you can choose to selectively assign access permissions for the user accounts that are registered on your computer.
This program has a trial version that works for 30 days. The full version costs $39.95 and it gives users the possibility to upgrade to any new version during the first year of use. Also, it can be used on 2 computers. After the first year, if you want to upgrade to newer versions, you have to pay for a new license.
Download link: Folder Guard.
Folder Protector - Free & Commercial
This program uses encryption to protect your folders. All you have to do is launch it, select the folder you want to lock, enter a password twice and press Protect. The folder is encrypted and all you'll find inside is a small executable that you can use to unlock that folder. You can also use the program itself to unlock the folders that you protected.
To get a complete understanding of how it works, read this tutorial provided by the company that has developed it: Password Protect Folders with Folder Protector.
This program works for free with very few limitations. You can set it to use 256-bit encryption only if you purchase the Pro version which costs $24.95.
Folder Lock Lite - Commercial
Folder Lock Lite is a well structured program that lets you protect your folders, files and even entire drives. When you run this program for the first time, it asks you to enter a master password. This password is used for every folder and file you choose to lock. Then, you can simply drag and drop the items you want protected, onto the main interface. All the folders you chose to protect are immediately locked and they are also hidden. Nobody will get access to them unless they know the master password you have set.
The trial version allows you to use this program for 30 days. If you will want to continue using it after that, you'll have to pay $24.95.
Download link: Folder Lock Lite.
Protected Folder - Commercial Tool
This program is easy to use and has a nice and clean user interface. It uses a single master password for all the folders that you choose to protect.
To add the folders that you want protected, use the Add button and then select them. You can also drag and drop those folders into this program's user interface.
Another thing worth mentioning is that you cannot uninstall this program without first providing the master password. After it is uninstalled, all your locked folders are automatically unlocked, thus eliminating the risk of losing your data.
You can start and use this program for free, 20 times without any limitations. After that, if you want to keep using it, you have to pay $19.95/year.
Download link: Protected Folder.
What We Have Learned During Our Testing
One of the things we have learned during our testing is that you should not install more than one program of this type. We have encountered issues with programs blocking each other out and not being able to access the folders protected by one program after installing another one. Another issue we have discovered is that most programs of this type will not unlock the folders they were protecting when you uninstall them. Therefore you will lose access to your data. The programs we have recommended in this roundup handle the uninstallation process well and won't leave you with blocked and hidden folders.
If you know other good programs for protecting your folders with passwords, don't hesitate to share them using the comments form below.