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

Using password protection on your files and folders to restrict unwanted access is one of the most crucial steps you can take to safeguard their contents and your sensitive information.


Think about it: if you allow someone to use your Mac, how can you be sure no one’s ever taking a peek at your private files? Everything from confidential work projects to tax returns, medical records, family photos and more - nearly all files contain some level of sensitive information.


Also, the unfortunate reality is everyone loses things, and our devices can get stolen. And a login password won’t necessarily protect you, either - breaking into a password-protected computer is small potatoes to most cybercriminals.


With this in mind, adding password protection to a file or folder to restrict  access just makes good common sense.


Read on if you want to learn more about macOS’s easy-to-use password protection features. Our advice extends beyond the encryption of your files and folders to include ways for you to password protect your hard drive, backups, and more.

Yep, your Mac comes with free built-in encryption

Your Mac allows you to apply encryption to documents, securing them with a password only you know. This means you don’t need to buy any additional software to password protect your files or folders.


It’s also not particularly complicated to set up, and should only take a few minutes of your time. More on that below, but before we jump into it, know this:


Password protecting your Mac files and folders doesn’t mean all your bases are covered

Although setting a password does add an important layer of security for your files and folders, it doesn’t completely prevent them from being accessed by determined hackers. Today’s cybercriminals have an array of sophisticated tools and techniques at their disposal to break encryption or crack passwords.


Passwords also can’t prevent ransomware or other forms of malware from infiltrating your computer to steal or delete your files.


So, while doing some of the legwork yourself is advisable, you’ll still need an overall umbrella of protection - security and privacy software for your Mac to specifically protect you from malware, spyware, and viruses.


Another word of caution: once you set a password on a file or folder, it’s then impossible to access them without it. So if you have a bad memory, it’s well worth storing these on a third-party password manager.

How to password protect files and folders on Mac

To do this, you’ll need to 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).

  • Create the folder you’re looking to encrypt and add the relevant files to it (if you haven’t already done so).
  • Go to Applications > Utilities > Disk Utility.
  • From the top menu, select File > New Image.
  • Next, select Image from Folder.
  • Once the folder window opens, you’ll want to choose the folder you want to password protect.
  • Within the pop-up window that appears, you’ll see menus for both Encryption and Image Format.
  • Click the menu option next to Encryption. Then, select the level of encryption you want to implement (either 128-bit or 256-bit AES Encryption.)
  • You’ll be prompted to set a password for the folder once you’ve selected the relevant encryption level.
  • Next up, you need to click the menu next to Image Format and select Read/Write. Once you click save, your Mac will get busy creating a disk image of your folder. Click Done and exit the window.

Not so fast, our work isn’t quite done!


Remember, the original, unencrypted folder is still on your computer. Double check to confirm you’re able to access the disk image and the files inside it. At this point, you can go ahead and delete the original folder.


How to password protect Notes

  1. Open the Notes app on your Mac.
  2. Either 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.
  5. You can follow the steps outlined above to password protect other iWork files, such as Keynote or Numbers.

How to password protect PDF files on your Mac

  1. Open the PDF file in Preview mode.
  2. Go to the menu > File > Export.
  3. Select the “Encrypt” box.
  4. Enter your password and click Save.

If you want to share files securely, over email or via the cloud, you can easily password protect these file types with the above method  - all you have to do is export them as a PDF first.

How to encrypt your Mac hard drive

Consider this the motherlode of password protection for your Mac. By using this form of encryption, all of the contents of your Mac will be automatically encrypted and protected, even if your computer is compromised. Here’s how to set it up:

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

Once you’re back up and running, your Mac will start encrypting your disk. You should expect things to run a little slower than normal for the first hour or so before returning to your normal operating speed.

How to encrypt your external drives

It’s definitely a good idea to encrypt any removable storage devices if you use these for storing sensitive data as well.


However, FileVault can’t handle any external drive encryption for you. So to secure this drive, you’ll need to go the manual route:

  1. Open Finder (the friendly-looking blue-faced icon on your Mac’s dock).
  2. Connect the drive you’re looking to encrypt to your Mac.
  3. Right click the drive from the Finder sidebar.
  4. Select Encrypt.
  5. At this point, Finder will prompt you to enter a strong password of your choice, plus a password hint.

Give it a few minutes for your drive to be encrypted, then you’re all done!

How to encrypt your Time Machine backups

A great way to secure your backup system on Mac is by enabling encryption.

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

That’s it - your Mac folders and files are now for your eyes only!

But don't forget, password protecting your Mac files is just one piece of the 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 for even more security tips, be sure to subscribe to our blog full of the latest advice from Clario’s expert team.

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