How to password protect a folder on Windows 11

If you want to make sure no one can access your private files, there are a couple of ways you can protect your folders with a password on Windows 11.

Screenshot of a password protected folder in File Explorer and Wise Folder Hider on Windows 11

Windows 11 already comes with an array of security features that help ensure your files and folders are safe from prying eyes. For one thing, you typically have to sign into your account to access your files, and you can protect your account with a password. On top of that, Windows 11 also offers drive encryption powered by BitLocker, which helps ensure attackers can’t bypass your security measures.

But sometimes, you might be sharing your great Windows PC with someone else, or maybe you just want the extra peace of mind of having an additional layer of protection for particularly sensitive files. If you’d like to protect a folder using a password, there are a couple of ways you can go about it. The first and most easily accessible way is to use a third-party app to lock your folders, while the other involves using BitLocker, which is a feature only available on Windows 11 Pro and Enterprise, but it’s much stronger than most free third-party software. Here’s what you need to know.

Using a third-party app (Wise Folder Hider)

There are plenty of apps that allow you to protect your files with a password, but here we’ll use a program called Wise Folder Hider. It’s free to use, although there is a pro version if you want to unlock full functionality.

How to set up a password-protected folder in Wise Folder Hider

  1. Download Wise Folder Hider from the official website.
  2. Run the installer and click through the process.
  3. Open Wise Folder Hider, and you’ll immediately be prompted to create a password for the app. This is the primary layer of security for your protected folders.
    Screenshot of the Wise Folder Hider asking the user to set a password when first launching the app
  4. The main view of the app lets you hide files, folders, or drives using the buttons at the bottom of the window. Click Hide folder to protect an entire folder.
    Screenshot of the main interface in Wise Folder Hider with the option to hide a folder highlighted in red
  5. Navigate your PC to find the folder you want to protect and click OK.
    Screenshot of the folder navigation for choosing a folder to hide using Wise Folder Hider
  6. The folder will be hidden and no longer visible in File Explorer. You can click Open inside Wise Folder Hider to make it visible and see its contents.
  7. If you’d like an additional layer of protection, click the arrow next to Open (or Close) and choose Set password. This lets you set an additional password that’s required to make a folder visible.
    Screenshot of Wise Folder Hider showing the option to set a password to unhide a folder
  8. Enter the password you want to use and click OK.
  9. When you’re done using the folder, use the Close button to make the folder invisible again. Make sure to also close any File Explorer windows where you opened the folder to avoid keeping it in your history.
    Screenshot of Wise Folder Hider with the option to close a hidden folder highlighted.
  10. Launch Wise Folder Hider whenever you’d like to access your protected files again. You’ll need to remember your password, or you risk losing your files.

How to encrypt files in Wise Folder Hider

Another option in Wise Folder Hider is encryption, which creates a virtual hard drive where you can store your files and lets you hide or show the drive. The benefit of this is that the drive is portable, and you can easily move it anywhere as long as you have Wise Folder Hider to mount the virtual hard drive and make it visible. The big problem here is that the free version of the app only lets you create 50MB drives, which means you may need to create multiple drives if you have a lot of files. Still, here’s how to use this feature:

  1. Open Wise Folder Hider.
  2. Near the top of the window, switch to the Encrypt File tab.
    Screenshot of Wise Folder Hider with the Encrypt File tab highlighted
  3. Click Create at the bottom of the window to create a virtual hard drive.
    Screenshot of Wise Folder Hider with the option to create a virtual drive highlighted
  4. Choose a name and location to store the virtual hard drive in. You can also set a capacity, but only in the pro version.
    Screenshot of Wise Folder Hider when choosing a name, location, and capacity for an encrypted locker
  5. Click OK.
  6. The virtual hard drive will automatically be mounted and opened in File Explorer, so you can add files to it. You can also find the drive on This PC page in File Explorer.
    Screenshot of Wise Folder Hider with an encrypted locker and File Explorer showing the contents of the drive
  7. Once you’ve added the files you want to protect, go back to Wise Folder Hider and click Unmount.
    Screenshot of Wise Folder Hider with a mounted encrypted locker. The option to Unmount the locker is highlighted.
  8. You can also click the arrow next to the Unmount option and select Set password to add another layer of protection.
  9. Whenever you need to access the files again, open Wise Folder Hider and choose Mount to make the drive visible.

Even though the drive will be invisible on the This PC page and won’t be accessible, you can find the virtual hard drive file in the folder where you created it. This means you can move your protected files to another computer if you need to.

Using a virtual hard drive and BitLocker to create password protection

If you have Windows 11 Pro or higher, you can leverage BitLocker to protect your sensitive data instead. In concept, this method works similarly to the second option we described above, but if you already have Windows 11 Pro, you can use it at no additional cost, and Microsoft’s encryption might be harder to crack. You’ll need to create a virtual hard drive and then use BitLocker to protect it.

Creating a virtual hard disk (VHD)

First off, you’re going to have to create a virtual hard disk (VHD) that will serve as your folder for the files you want to protect. Here’s how to do it:

  1. Right-click the Start icon on your taskbar and select Disk Management.
  2. In the menu bar at the top, click Action, and then Create VHD.
    Screenshot of Disk Management in Windows 11 showing the option to create a virtual hard disk
  3. Click Browse and choose a location to store the VHD file in.
  4. Name the file anything you want to make it recognizable, and click Save.
  5. Choose the initial size for the drive based on the files you want to store. The more files you have, the more space you’ll need. You can also check the Dynamically expanding option at the bottom of the window so your hard drive gets bigger as you add more files.
    Screenshot of the Create VHD dialog with the size options highlighted
  6. Optionally, set the Virtual hard disk format to VHDX if you want a more modern format with support for larger disks.
  7. Click OK.
  8. Your new VHD will show up in Disk Management as Not Initialized. It should be called Disk X (where X is replaced by a number based on how many disks you already have).
  9. Right-click Disk X and choose Initialize Disk.
    Screenshot of Disk Management showing the option to initialize a disk
  10. Make sure the box for the disk is checked, and choose either the GPT or MBR partition style. MBR is more widely compatible with older versions of Windows.
    Screenshot of the Initialize Disk dialog with Disk 1 selected and partition style set to GPT.
  11. Click OK.
  12. You’ll now see unallocated space next to the disk you just created. Right-click this area and choose New Simple Volume.
    Screenshot of Disk Management showing the option to create a new simple volume on unallocated space
  13. Click Next and then click Next again to confirm the default volume size settings.
  14. Choose Assign the following drive letter and select any of the available letters from the dropdown menu. Click Next.
    Screenshot of the New Volume Wizard showing drive letter S assigned to the drive being created
  15. Use the Volume label field to name your drive (it can be anything you want), and leave the rest of the settings as the default options.
    Screenshot of the New Volume Wizard showing a custom volume label
  16. Click Next and then Finish.

You’ll now have a virtual hard drive that shows up in Windows, so the next step is to protect it with a password.

Using BitLocker to create a password

We’ve already covered how to use BitLocker drive encryption, but this time, we’re focusing on specifically encrypting this additional drive with a different password. Here’s what you need to do:

  1. Open the Start menu and search for Control Panel.
  2. Click System and Security.
    Screenshot of Windows 11 Control Panel with System and Security section highlighted
  3. Choose BitLocker Drive Encryption.
    Screenshot of the System and Security section of Control Panel with BitLocker drive encryption highlighted
  4. Find the drive you created under Fixed data drives and click Turn on BitLocker.
    Screenshot of BitLocker in the Control Panel with a fixed data drive highlighted
  5. Choose the Use a password to unlock the drive option and enter the password you want to use.
    Screenshot of BitLocker drive encryption setup asking the user to set a password
  6. Choose whether to save the backup recovery key. The Save to your Microsoft Account option is easiest if you have a linked account, but you can also use the Save to a file if you want to store the key somewhere else.
    BitLocker recovery key backup-1Screenshot of BitLocker giving the user the option to save a backup recovery key
  7. Click Next.
  8. Choose Encrypt used disk space only and click Next.
    Screenshot of BitLocker set to only encrypt used disk space
  9. Choose Compatible mode and click Next.
    Screenshot of BitLocker encryption set to Compatible mode
  10. Click Start encryption and once it’s finished, click Close.

Accessing and locking the virtual hard disk

With the virtual hard disk created and secured, you’re ready to use the password-protected drive. Here are the basics of how to use this folder.

  1. Find the VHD file you created and double-click it to mount the drive. You may see an error saying access is denied since the drive hasn’t been unlocked yet.
    Screenshot of a virtual hard disk file in the Windows 11 File Explorer
  2. Once the drive is mounted, navigate to This PC and double-click the drive to open it.
  3. Enter the password you set using BitLocker to unlock the drive.
    Screenshot of Windows 11 File Explorer and BitLocker asking the user for a password to access a drive
  4. You can now move and access the files as needed.
    Screenshot of File Explorer displaying the contents of a virtual hard drive protected by BitLocker
  5. To protect the drive again, go back to This PC.
  6. Right-click the drive and choose Eject.
    Screenshot of Windows 11 File Explorer showing the option to eject a virtual hard drive
  7. Follow the steps above again to access your files

Because this hard drive is a file, you can also store it on a flash drive or move it to another PC to access your private data anywhere while keeping it safe.

That’s all you need to know about how to protect your files and folders using password protection. We definitely recommend going with BitLocker encryption if you have Windows 11 Pro, but if you have a Home edition of Windows 11, the first option is likely more ideal. If you’d like to learn about other security features in Windows 11, check out how to use Smart App Control or how to disable Microsoft Defender.