For enterprises, a lot of valuable data like contracts, business proposals, report forms, and staff information may be saved on their computers. Actually, for we ordinary people, valuable, personal, private or sensitive information are always saved in our computer. And I believe everyone hopes to prevent these data from unauthorized access. In this post, we are going to introduce several simple ways to protect our valuable or confidential data on Windows-based computer.
PS. All examples are made on 32 bit Windows 7 computer, but operations under most Windows operating systems should be nearly the same.
1.Hide Specific Files or Folders
Firstly, open the drive where important files or folders are saved and locate the very file we want to hide:
Then, right click the file which needs hiding and choose “Properties” feature from the pop-up menu. Here, we take hiding the file named test file 4.xls for example.
Next, check the option “Hidden” under General tab and click “OK” button at the bottom. After these settings, we will find the selected file “disappears” from the drive:
At this time, common people will be unable to access the hidden file.
Tip: users may find that the selected file is still here though they have done “Hidden”. The possible reason may be that “Show hidden files, folders, and drives” is enabled in Folder Options:
Under this situation, users just need to switch to “Don’t show hidden files, folders, or drives”, and then the file will be “missing”. As to how to enter Folder Options, we will introduce right now.
However, this is just the simplest way to protect valuable or personal data, and users who are familiar with computer can unhide your files very easily. They only need to do the following settings:
Go to Folder Options under “Tools” tab or “Organize” menu:
Choose “Show hidden files, folders, and drives” and click “OK”:
After these steps, they can see and open the hidden file. Aiming at this situation, we will introduce the second way to protect our private data.
2.Make the Drive Saving Important Files Disappear from Windows Explorer
After entering Windows Explorer or opening “Computer” we will find multiple hard disk drives which are marked with C:, D:, E:, F:, etc.:
All files are saved in these drives. To access stored files we should open the drive at first. Therefore, as long as we make a drive disappear from this place, naturally others will be unable to see files saved in this drive. There are 2 ways to make a drive missing.
Hide Hard Disk Drive in Windows Disk Management
Right click “Computer” icon on the desktop, choose “Manage”, and select “Disk Management” to launch Windows snap-in Disk Management utility:
Then, right click the drive which saves valuable files or folders and choose “Change Drive Letter or Paths”. Here we suppose important files are saved in partition G.
Next, remove the letter of this drive.
Tip: some programs relying on this drive letter may not run correctly after removing drive letter, so please transfer these programs to another drive and create shortcut (optional) in advance.
After these operations we will find drive G disappears from Windows Explorer:
That is to say files saved in the hidden drive are inaccessible. However, if the one who wants to see your privacy is familiar with Windows Disk Management tool, they can unhide the drive very easily. Detailed steps are: right click the hidden drive in Disk Management, choose “Change Drive Letter and Paths”, and add a letter for this drive. Therefore, users had better employ the second way to hide a drive, and it is to use free partitioning tool. The second method is much better than the first one.
Hide Hard Disk Drive in Partitioning Programs
Currently, there are professional partitioning toolkits which can help hide a drive, and users will be unable to unhide it in Disk Management. Here, we take the freeware MiniTool Partition Wizard for example. Steps to hide a hard disk drive in this program are as follows:
Step 1: launch the freeware to get its starting interface and then choose “Launch Application” module to get the window below:
Step 2: select the drive which needs hiding and choose “Hide Partition” feature from the left side (a hard disk drive can also be called partition). Here, we also take drive G for example.
Now we can preview drive letter of the selected partition disappears and the state becomes “Hidden”. At this time, we only need to make the last step.
Step 3: click “Apply” button which is on the top left corner to make the preview effect applied. Once MiniTool Partition Wizard shows it applied all the pending changes successfully, the very drive will disappear from Windows Explorer. After opening Windows Disk Management and right clicking the hidden partition we will find the feature “Change Drive Letter and Paths” is grayed out:
At this time, as long as the one who are planning to see your valuable or personal information does not have professional knowledge, they can do nothing. However, if you want to make the hidden hard disk drive visible again, please take the following operations:
Launch MiniTool Partition Wizard to get its main interface shown below:
Select the hidden drive and choose “Unhide Partition” function from the left action pane.
Choose a drive letter for this drive and click “OK”.
Click the functional button “Apply” to perform the change.
After that, we can open and access the drive. However, if you think both hiding files/folders and hiding hard disk drives are not safe enough to protect your important data, create a password for your computer or encrypt the hard disk drive.
Tip: once a password is set, please keep it in mind or save it to a safe place, because without a password you will be unable access your own computer or drive.
3.Set a Password for Computer
When installing Windows OS, users will be prompted to create a password for their computer, which is good for preventing others from entering their computer without authority. Actually, even if Windows has been installed, users can also create such a password. Take the following steps to do the setting:
Firstly, click “Start” menu and choose Control Panel:
Then, view items by small icons and choose User Accounts:
Next, choose the option “Create a password for your account”:
Then, type and confirm password for your account and click Create password to apply the password:
Once the password is set successfully, all people including yourself will be asked to input the password every time the computer starts. Without a correct password, nobody can enter it.
Of course, users can also encrypt the drive which saves valuable files by making use of Windows built-in encryption program “BitLocker” to protect data.
4.Encrypt a Drive with BitLocker
Since Windows Vista, the BitLocker feature is added to some editions of Windows OS to protect data by providing encryption for entire volumes. By default, it uses the AES encryption algorithm in cipher block chaining (CBC) mode with a 128-bit or 256-bit key, combined with the Elephant diffuser for additional disk encryption-specific security. To enable this function, we need to do the following changes:
Open “Computer” or go to Windows Explorer, right click the drive you want to encrypt, and choose “Turn on BitLocker…”:
Choose a way to unlock the drive. Here, we choose “Use a password to unlock the drive”. Then, type and retype the password you set and click “Next”:
Choose a location to save the recovery key with which you can access the encrypted drive when you forget the password.
Tip: users had better save the recovery key to another computer or removable device to prevent it from being found by others.
Click “Start Encrypting” to perform the encryption:
If the drive saves a lot of files, the encryption may cost much time, so please wait patiently.
However, there is a big limitation on BitLocker: if you do not restart computer, other people can access the encrypted drive without typing the password as long as the drive has been unlocked for a time. But there are solutions. For example, we can run CMD and type the command: manage-bde.exe N: -lock. This is a command helping lock the BitLocker encrypted hard disk drive without us restarting computer.
Tip: only Enterprise and Ultimate editions of Windows Vista, Windows 7, Professional and Enterprise editions of Windows 8 and 8.1, and some editions of Windows Server OS support BitLocker.
From all content above we know we can hide data or hide a drive to stop important files from being seen or stolen by others, and we can also encrypt our computer or hard disk drive to avoid privacy leakage. Actually, a quite important issue related to data security may be ignored by a lot of users: deleted or formatted data on our deprecated hard disk or mobile devices can be recovered by making use of data recovery software or hardware technology. And many people have suffered both economic and spiritual troubles resulting from privacy leakage. Therefore, next we will introduce the last way to protect our important data on Windows platform – erase private or confidential data permanently.
5.Erase Useless but Confidential Data Thoroughly to Avoid Privacy Leakage
When a storage device such as hard disk and USB flash drive cannot meet our actual storage demands, for instance it is too small to save large-capacity files or has been used for a long time, we may send it to others or sell it. When there is something wrong with our mobile phone, digital cameras, or other digital devices, we may send it to repair. Of course, most people will backup needed files and then delete private information or directly format the device before selling, but we have to say this may make their important or sensitive information leaked too, because both deleting and formatting won’t operate the real data. For more details, please see Erase Private Data Permanently. Actually, it is highly suggested that users wipe the entire hard disk drive or external device, because wiped data cannot be recovered any more.
To do this kind of erasing, users need to download a free partitioning tool from the internet, and MiniTool Partition Wizard Free may be a good choice since it employs the DOD 5220.28-STD (7 passes) technology which is standardized by US Department of Defense to wipe data. Detailed steps are as follows.
How to Wipe a Drive with MiniTool Partition Wizard Free
Firstly, download and install the program on Windows computer. Then, launch it to get the main interface below:
Here we can see all disks and hard disk drives recognized by Windows. Please select the drive storing important or private information and choose “Wipe Partition” feature from the left side to get the interface for choosing wiping methods.
There are 5 wiping methods in total. From the top to the bottom wiping effect strengthens but more and more time should be cost. Here we suggest choosing the last one namely DoD 5220.28-STD though it is the most time-consuming method, because it is the safest way. Then, click “OK” to go back to the main interface:
From this interface we can see used space of the selected drive becomes 0B, and it is unformatted now. At this time, as long as we click “Apply” button on the top, all changes will be performed. Of course, if you want to erase the entire hard disk, the function “Wipe Disk” is available.
Note: once the wiping is completed, we will have no chance to recover erased data even if we ask professional data recovery companies for help, so please backup needed ones in advance.
These are 5 ways to protect our important or confidential information, and I hope one or some of them are useful for you. However, if you think no solution here is available for you, you can encrypt your storage device by using professional encrypting software, but this may be troublesome and chargeable. Of course, you can also purchase a hard disk employing hardware encryption technology and save private and valuable data on it.