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Smartphones & gadgets

How-to: Lock down private files on your phone or computer

It doesn’t matter what you save to your phone, computer or tablet — everything you keep on your devices should be considered private unless you give someone else permission to look through your files, images and apps.

Unfortunately, the default settings on most gadgets aren’t set up to keep everything hidden or password-protected. Anyone who accesses your devices can see everything. Tap or click here to learn how to passcode-protect your apps.

So, how do you protect your information? There are a few settings and privacy apps that can help lock down your devices. Let’s start with protecting your Mac.

Your own private terminal

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In the latest version of macOS, you can hide files and folders using your computer terminal program. This text-based emulator is used for typing commands, and the one command you need to know is “chflags hidden.”

Open Terminal by clicking the Launchpad icon, which looks like a little space shuttle. This can be found on your Mac’s Dock, the bar at the bottom of your screen. Type “Terminal” in the search field, then click the app when it appears.

Another way to open Terminal is to open Finder, which looks like a blue and white face. Go to Applications, then the Utilities folder and double-click Terminal.

Now open the folder or file you want to hide. In Terminal, type in the following command, but do not hit the Return key yet:

Double-check to ensure you did place a space between “chflags” and “hidden,” then add another space after “hidden.” Next, drag your file or the entire folder from its location and add it to the end of the Terminal command and hit Return.

Now no one who looks through your computer will see that your file or folder exists — even if they use Finder.

To unhide anything you’ve already hidden, simply open Terminal and input the following command, again without hitting Return yet:

Your hidden files and folders will appear here, so just drag them out and hit Return. Now you can see your secret files in Finder again.

Password protect your folders in Windows 10

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There isn’t a way to password-protect folders baked into Windows 10, but you can hide files with a handy download. A quick word of warning: If you forget your password, everything you’ve hidden will be forfeit.

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Now that you’re ready to set up a password, you need to know whether you’re running a 32 or 64-bit operating system. Don’t worry, it’s simple to find out.

Just right-click the Windows menu icon and open Settings. From here, go to System and choose About. Under Device specifications, look for “System type” and it will tell you whether you’ve got a 32 or 64-bit OS

Now you’re ready to install WinRAR. Click the button below to get it.

Scroll down to where it says Localized WinRAR versions and choose your language and appropriate operating system to download. Follow the on-screen instructions, then restart your computer.

Now, when you right-click folders or files, look for “Add to Archive.” This creates a new smaller file with the same contents. A menu will open; choose “Set password” in the bottom right corner.

Another pop-up will open. On this menu, check the box that says “Encrypt file names.” Enter your password twice to confirm and click OK in both menus. Now you can delete the file and WinRAR will protect the new copy.

Note: If you delete WinRAR, you will no longer have access to your locked file, so be sure to unlock it before deleting the program.

If you want to change any protected documents, you will need to save the new version in a regular file, but you can drag and drop it into the locked folder to overwrite the older version.

To unlock your files, just double-click the protected file and open it. Then click Extract and confirm the location to save it and finalize by clicking OK. It will ask for your password, so just enter it and click OK to finish this task.

Lock those files in the vault

If you own an iPhone, you can move photos to the “Hidden” album, but that doesn’t mean much. It keeps those “hidden” photos out of your regular gallery, but they aren’t password-protected or even truly hidden. So how do you conceal photos you don’t want anyone else to see?

And what about videos, documents and audio files? Just use the Secret Vault app. With Secret Vault, you can lock and manage these file types:

  • Photos: jpg, png, bmp, gif, tif, tiff, jpeg
  • Video: mov, mp4, m4v, mpv
  • Audio: mp3, aiff, wav
  • Document: pdf, doc, ppt, txt, xls, rtf, html, pages, key, numbers

Simply lock any category with passwords and hide your folders. You can even set up a fake password that sends snoops to decoy data. The free app is ad-supported. The premium version includes a 3-day free trial that includes break-in alerts, cloud backup and no ads for $2.99.

Keep your files, photos and videos under lock and key

For Android users, one app can take care of all your file types: The aptly-named Vault.

Simply download the app, set up a password and that’s it. This app hides both your files and your activity.

Use App Lock to protect your social media apps, images, call logs and even calling apps. Open Private browser to surf the net without leaving a data trail and you can even use a Private Bookmark feature.

You can create multiple vaults with different passwords and even make a decoy for the curious sibling or nosey friend to find. The ad-supported app discreetly takes a pic of anyone who tries to open your files with the wrong password and timestamps it.

Now that you know how to protect all your files across multiple devices, you don’t have to worry about anyone looking at your private information. Create what you want, safeguard your latest novel or hide all those pictures you don’t want others to see.

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