Sometimes, you need to keep files on your computer that you just don't want other people to see. Whether it's a gift list or that porn stash, hiding files is easy. Here's how to do it.
Level 1: Use Hidden Folders
If you just need to tuck some files away from prying eyes then using your computer's built-in hidden folders is an easy way to do it. This won't really hide files from someone who knows what they're doing, but it will make them invisible so people don't stumble across them. Think of it as the digital equivalent of hiding things under your mattress.
Hiding files in Windows is pretty easy:
- Select the files or folders you want to hide
- Right-click and choose Properties
- Click the General tab
- Click the checkbox next to Hidden in the Attributes section
- Click Apply
Now the files you chose are hidden away and people won't see them when they're looking through your folders. When you need to find those files again, just turn Hidden Items on.
On Mac, you'll use a quick Terminal command to hide folders. Just type this into Terminal, replacing /path/to/folder with the folder you want to hide:
chflags hidden /path/to/file-or-folder
To unhide it, type in:
chflags nohidden /path/to/file-or-folder
If you don't know the full path of the folder you want to hide, type the command then drag that file or folder into the Terminal window. Alternately, you can just tuck that folder away inside your Library folder.
Level 2: Use Apps to Hide Files from Search and History
If messing around with hidden folders is too much for you, you can use a third-party app to hide files. Again, these apps don't really protect your data, but they do make it so nobody casually comes across files you don't want them to.
Hide Folders with My Lockbox for Windows
My Lockbox tucks your personal files inside the app and requires a password to unlock them. Nothing inside My Lockbox will show up in search, so you don't need to worry about anyone coming across your files. There's no encryption here, so while it's not super secure, it is fast and easy to use.
Use Skedaddle or Obscurity for Mac
On Mac, you have two solid options to hide folders using apps. The first is the previously mentioned Skedaddle ($3.79). With Skedaddle, you get a hidden space on your desktop that you can put folders on. The files here won't show up in Spotlight searches or in Finder. That said, anyone who figures out the keyboard shortcut that pulls up Skedaddle can access them easily.
Another trick is to use an app like the previously mentionedObscurity. Although, calling Obscurity an app isn't exactly right. It's actually just a dummy app that you can put files inside. Just right-click Obscurity and select "Show Package Contents". Here, you can dump all your files into the app container. These files won't show up in searches or in Finder. This isn't really secure since anyone can access it, but chances are nobody is going to just dig around in your computer's applications folder right-clicking every single app.
Level 3: Encrypt Files to Lock Them Away for Good
Hiding apps or password protecting them doesn't really do that much in the way of security. If you really want to secure those files, you want to encrypt them so nobody can access them without a password. This will slow down your access to those files a bit, but it's definitely the most secure method to hide them away from prying eyes. You have a ton of different options to encrypt files, but the easiest method is to create an encrypted ZIP file.
Use 7-Zip for Windows to Encrypt Files
On Windows, we're fans of 7-Zip as an archive utility and it's also an easy way to encrypt files.
- Right-click on the folder or file you want to encrypt
- Select 7-Zip > Add to archive...
- Change the archive format to ZIP
- Change the encryption method to AES-256
- Enter a password and click Ok
Now, your files will be tucked away inside the password-protected archive where nobody can get to them. The ZIP file will show up in search, but its contents won't. If you want, go ahead and also hide zipped file using one of the methods above for even more security.
7-Zip isn't perfect — access to your files can be a little slow — so alternatively, you can use an encryption program. TrueCrypt is super easy, but is no longer under development, so it isn't as secure as many people would like (though it will certainly keep the average user out of your files). BitLocker is another good choice, though you'll need Windows 7 Ultimate, Windows 7 Enterprise or Windows 8 Pro to use it.
Use Disk Utility on Mac to Encrypt Files
You won't need additional software on your Mac to encrypt files. You can use the built-in Disk Utility app.
- Launch Disk Utility
- Select File > New > Disk Image from Folder
- Select the folder you want to encrypt
- Select 256-bit AES encryption from the Encryption drop-down menu
- Type in a password
That's it, you've now encrypted your folder. Go ahead and hide it using one of the steps above for a nice added layer of security. If you're looking to encrypt a ton of files, we likeHider 2 because it also creates a browseable file system.
Bonus: Hide Files Inside of Files
Hiding files in weird folders and encrypting them inside archives isn't the only way to keep them away from prying eyes though. You can also hide files inside other documents. For example, you can hide files inside an Office document or even inside a JPEG image. We've walked you through hiding files with steganography tools before, so if you're looking for a flashier way to hide your files, it's worth taking a look.