A hidden file or folder is just a normal file or folder with a “hidden” option set. Operating systems hide these files by default, so you can use this trick to hide some files if you share a computer with someone else.
This trick is far from foolproof. It’s trivial to enable the “show hidden files” option and find a hidden file. Operating systems hide many system files by default — just to get them out of your way.
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 no hidden /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.
Linux hides files and folders that have a period at the start of their name. To hide a file or folder, just rename it and place a period at the start of its name. For example, let’s say you had a folder named Secrets you wanted to hide. You’d rename it to. Secrets, with the period in front. File managers and other utilities will hide it from view by default.
1. Click the “Show hidden” option in your file manager of choice to view hidden files and folders on Linux. For example, in the Nautilus file manager used on Ubuntu and other GNOME-based Linux distributions, click the View menu and select Show Hidden Files.
2. The option will just display files folders with a period at the start of their name.
3. You can view hidden files in an Open or Save dialog, too. On Ubuntu and other GNOME-based Linux distributions, just right-click in the list of files and select the Show Hidden Files option.
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.
Windows – My Lockbox
While there might be countless options and varieties of applications that you can use in Windows to hide your files. My Lockbox is the best app that I came across for this particular use. The best thing about this app is that it password protects the files that you put into it, and will only unlock when you enter the password (obviously).
All the files that are inside My Lockbox, will not show up in the Search and the History, so there’s nothing to worry about someone stumbling across your files through those means. And while there is literally no encryption here (if you think practically), it is a nice and quick way to reduce your chances of someone finding your files.
Mac – Skedaddle or Obscurity
Skedaddle is a solid application that gets you some hidden space on your desktop to hide your files. All the files in Skedaddle will not show up in Finder or the Spotlight. But there is only one vulnerability, and that is, if someone finds the keyboard shortcut to open Skedaddle on your desktop, they will have access to all the files that you had stored in it.
Another option is the Obscurity app. And while it is not appropriately an app, because it is just an empty app in which you can store your files. To access them, just right click on the app, and then select the “show package Content” options to get access to your hidden files. While there is no protection here, but it is highly unlikely that anyone would be on a right-clicking rampage on every app that you have installed on your computer.
Level – Expert: Encrypt The Files and Lock Them
All those simple hiding options and hiding apps are not really the best way to keep someone from accessing your files. If you really want to ensure total security, then encrypting them is the best way to do so.
This will make sure that no one can access your private files without a password. And while this might delay your access to those files a bit, but it is well worth the delay. There are thousands of ways to encrypt your files, but creating an encrypted ZIP file is the best, and the easiest way to do so.
Windows – 7-Zip
7-Zip is a popular Windows application to do almost anything. From compressing files into a ZIP file to encrypting them with a password. Here’s how you can do it:
- Right-click on the folder that you want to encrypt, and then select 7-Zip – Add to archive
- Then change the archive format to ZIP
- Change the encryption method to AES-256
- Enter your desired password and then click Ok.
- If your files are big, then it will take a while to encrypt them. Once encrypted, all the files will be password protected in that ZIP file, and even though that ZIP file will show up in the Searches and History, the contents in that ZIP file won’t be showing up there.
And if you don’t want your ZIP file to show up in those areas, then you can make use of the two methods above to avoid that too. This will surely add to the security of your files.
Mac – Use the Disk Utility
This is where most people love the Mac because they won’t have to download or need an app to encrypt their files with a password. Disk Utility is a built-in app that can be used for this purpose. Here’s how:
- Launch the Disk Utility
- Navigate to File – New – Disk Image from Folder
- Now select the folder that you want to encrypt
- Select the 256-bit AES encryption from the Encryption drop-down menu
- Type in your desired password
- Again, if your file is large, it will take a while to encrypt it.
- To add to the security of your files, you can go ahead and use one of the two ways (mentioned above) to remove the encrypted file from Finder and Spotlight.
To actually prevent people from accessing your secret files and folders, you’ll want to encrypt them instead. Files and folders hidden in the above ways are accessible with a few clicks — they’re hidden from view, but easy to find if someone goes looking for them. Encryption ensures your files and folders can’t be accessed unless someone has your encryption key.