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How Do I Password Protect Files and Folders on My Mac?

If you’re serious about safeguarding your sensitive information, password protection on your files and folders is the most sensible way to go. Think of it this way: if you let someone use your Mac, how can you be sure they aren’t looking through your private files? Your device and all the files on your hard drive can also get stolen. You can also rely on Clario to provide all-around 24/7 digital protection.

Table of contents

Read on to learn about the macOS password protection features you need to use to stay safe.

How to password-protect folders on Mac

First, turn your folder into a disk image file (.dmg). You can use this method to create secure archives of files and folders (or even an entire disk, if you’d like).

  1. Find the folder you need to encrypt and add the relevant files to it
  2. Open Finder and go to Applications > Utilities > Disk Utility
  3. From the top menu, select File > New Image > Image from Folder
  4. Once the folder window opens, choose the folder you want to protect with a password Within the pop-up window that appears, you’ll see menus for both Encryption and Image Format  
  5. Select the level of encryption you want to implement (128-bit or 256-bit AES Encryption)
  6. Set a password for the folder
  7. Click the menu next to Image Format and select Read/Write
  8. Click Done and exit the window.


Not so fast. You’re not done yet!


The original, unencrypted folder is still on your computer. Double-check to confirm you can access the disk image and files inside it. Only now, can you go ahead and delete the original folder.  

How to password-protect files on Mac

While Disk Utility remains the most secure way to password-protect files and folders on your Mac, there are a few alternative methods to avoid unauthorized access.


How to password-protect Notes

  1. Open the Notes app on your Mac
  2. Create a new note or choose an existing note
  3. Click the lock icon and select Lock Note
  4. You will be prompted to enter a password and select a password hint.

You can also follow these steps to protect other iWork files, like Keynote or Numbers.


How to password-protect PDF files

  1. Open the necessary PDF file in the Preview mode
  2. Go to the Menu > File > Export
  3. Select the Encrypt checkbox
  4. Enter your password and click Save.

You can easily password-protect various files such as images, tables, or text. All you have to do is export them as a PDF, then encrypt that PDF file on your Mac using these steps.  

How to encrypt your Mac hard drive

Consider this the motherlode of password protection for your Mac. Using FileVault, you can encrypt the entire contents of your Mac and password protect access to your hard drive. FileVault even allows you to erase your drive remotely via Find My Mac, preventing unauthorized access to your files in case your computer was stolen.  


Here’s how to password-protect a hard drive on Mac:

  1. Click the Apple icon to open the main Apple menu. Select System > Preferences > Security & Privacy
  2. Click on the FileVault tab
  3. Click on the lock icon in the bottom left corner of the window
  4. Enter your admin username and password when prompted
  5. Click to enable FileVault
  6. Choose the preferred method of unlocking your disk if you lose your password (iCloud for OS X Yosemite or a recovery key for OS X Mavericks)
  7. Restart your Mac.

When choosing an alternative method of unlocking the disk, make sure it’s both secure and easy to access. iCloud can be the way to go unless you have trouble accessing your account. By storing the recovery key in a notebook or as a screenshot, you can reach it whenever necessary.  


Once your Mac starts encrypting your disk, expect things to run a little slower than usual for the first hour or so. After that, the operating speed will return to normal.

How to encrypt your Mac external drives

If you use removable storage devices for keeping sensitive data, they have to be encrypted as well. Unfortunately, FileVault can’t password protect external drives on your Mac for you. So to secure this drive, you’ll need to take the manual route using Finder or Disc Utility.  


How to encrypt external drives using Finder

  1. Connect the drive you want to encrypt to your Mac
  2. Open Finder and right-click the drive from the Finder sidebar
  3. Select Encrypt
  4. Enter a strong password of your choice, plus a password hint
  5. Click Encrypt Disk.


How to encrypt external drives using Disk Utility

NB! Since this method requires erasing your external drive, you should only use it for new or empty drives. And if you want to partition other drives, make sure you copy all the data before starting the encryption process.

  1. Connect the drive you want to encrypt to your Mac
  2. Open Finder and go to Applications > Utilities > Disk Utility
  3. Select the drive you want to encrypt and click Erase
  4. In the pop-up window, provide a name and select Mac OS Extended (Journaled, Encrypted) from the Format drop-down list
  5. Click Erase
  6. Enter a strong password and a hint if you need one
  7. Click Choose.

From now on, you’ll need to enter the password every time you restart your Mac or connect the drive.


How to encrypt disk images using Disk Utility

  1. Open Finder and go to Applications > Utilities > Disk Utility
  2. Go to the Menu > File > New Image > Blank Image
  3. In the pop-up window, you can set up disc image configurations in a specific order:
    • In the Save As field, write the name of the disc image file
    • In the Where drop-down list, select the necessary location
    • In the Name field, write the name to be shown when you open the disc image
    • In the Image Format drop-down list, select sparse disc image
    • In the Size field, set the maximum size you want the disk image to hold in the future
    • In the Image Format drop-down list, select “read/write”
    • In the Encryption drop-down list, select the encryption level (128-bit encryption for large files or 256-bit encryption for super-secret files). Provide a strong password.
  4. Once you’re done with the password, click Save and then click Done once the operation is successfully finished.

This option allows you to protect disks in use as their size grows along with the content you add.

How to encrypt your Time Machine backups

Securing your backup system on Mac is also an excellent idea.

  1. Go to the Menu bar and click on the Apple icon > System Preferences > Time Machine (near the bottom of the drop-down menu)
  2. Click on Select Backup Disk
  3. Choose the disk you plan on using for your backup, then select the Backup Automatically option
  4. Check the Encrypt Backups option in the bottom left corner of your screen
  5. Enter a secure password, and you’re done!

How to back up to a server or Airport Time Capsule

  1. Go to the Menu bar and click on the Apple icon > System Preferences > Time Machine
  2. Click on Select Backup Disk and select your server or Airport Time Capsule backup destination
  3. Click Use Disk and log in to your server or Airport Time Capsule
  4. Once you’re logged in, enter a password to encrypt your backup disk.
  5. Select Encrypt Disk.


Your Mac will instantly start the backup process and store it as an encrypted Sparse Bundle Image (a disk image on your Mac containing backed up data).  


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That’s it, your Mac folders and files are now strictly for your eyes only! But don't forget that password protecting your Mac files is just one piece of the security puzzle. To be truly safe online, you’ll also want to use a Virtual Private Network (or VPN) and other cybersecurity products to protect your identity and keep cybercriminals at bay.  


And if you’re looking for a simple app that provides far-ranging protection, try Clario out. It ensures your identity, network, and file protection across devices.


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