June 13th, 2011
Basic File Hiding
If you don’t trust the cloud, that only leaves your hard drive for fast access to files. So how do you keep those important files incognito? There is a very basic way to hide something, even right on your Windows desktop: Make it invisible.
Here’s how to activate a folder cloaking device in Windows XP/Vista/7:
1) Folders typically need a name, even if it’s super short. You can get rid of the name though. Rename a folder on your desktop by highlighting it. Hit F2 and type 0160 with the number pad (not the numbers above the letter keys) while you hold down the Alt key. The numbers will NOT appear to change. Press Enter. The name of the file will be blank.
Note: You can only do this to one folder on the desktop at a time, as Windows sees no name as the name and won’t let you duplicate folder names.
2) The name is gone but the folder icon is still there. Right click on it and select Properties. Go to the Customize tab and click Change Icon. Windows will give you a choice of icons to change it to; three of those choices are blanks (you can find them about 12 columns from the right). Click on a blank one and then click OK.
Your folder is now invisible on the desktop. You can then combine these steps with some basic encryption. For example, use software like WinZip, WinRAR, or 7-zip to create a file archive that is encrypted with a password of your creation. That way, if someone does find the folder you’ve concealed, that person still won’t be able to get to it. You can also change the file extension, from say .ZIP to .JPG, to obscure that it’s an archive.
Caveats: If you do this to a folder inside another folder and view the contents in list or details mode, the invisible folder will show up at the top. The name is blank, but the space will be obvious. Also, on the desktop, if someone clicks and drags with a cursor to highlight multiple icons, the invisible one can be highlighted and thus be seen—like throwing paint on the Invisible Man. So this method is free but far from foolproof.
You don’t have to do all this hiding yourself; you can also turn to software. Tools like Hide My Folders (14-day trial is free and then $39.95) or My Lockbox 2 (free or $24.94 for Pro edition) promise to hide your valuable data on Windows. Mac users can try Altomac’s Hide Folders (free or $24.95 if you want passwords on hidden folders) MCITP Training .
Hide the Whole Drive
Making a file or a whole folder invisible is one thing, but what if you’ve got a hard drive filled with secrets? Interestingly, it might be even easier to hide.
The simplest thing to do is make a Windows volume with its own drive letter, whether it’s a partition, a second internal drive, or an external drive (even a USB drive), and hide the letter from Windows Explorer. The open-source No Drives Manager does this, providing you with a list of drives from A to Z. Put a check next to the drive you want to hide and click “Write current settings to the registry.” The software adjusts Windows, so after you log off and back on again, that drive is no longer visible in Windows Explorer. When you want to access it, go to a command line—you can use the search bar in the Windows 7 menu—and type the drive letter with a colon to access it. Because No Drives Manager changes the registry, you don’t have to install it. You can keep it on a USB key and run it as needed to hide or unhide drives.
Note: This might not work if you use a Windows Explorer replacement tool.
Want to go the extra mile and add in some encryption? The free TrueCrypt software runs on multiple operating systems (Windows, Mac, and Linux) and can encrypt parts of a hard drive or an entire drive partition. What’s more, it can create a volume on the drive that it not only encrypts but hides.
Install and run TrueCrypt and the Volume Creation Wizard will appear. Tell it you want to make an “encrypted file container” on a “standard TrueCrypt volume.” Put the volume anywhere except your C: drive (for now, it doesn’t matter where you put it, but remember the path to the .TC file you create). Give the volume a strong-as-Hercules password. Let TrueCrypt create an encryption key, click Format, let it go, and exit the wizard. But wait, you’re not done yet.
In a command line window (to get one, type CMD in the Windows search box) and type:
Attrib D:\volume.tc +h
Make sure the path matches the one you used (we’ve shown an example above). The “+h” makes it a hidden file, so it won’t appear in Windows Explorer.
Go back into TrueCrypt and you’re going to mount the volume that you made and hide as a virtual hard drive using an unused drive letter. Again, type in the full path to the .TC file and click Mount. Dismount when finished, again using TrueCrypt. (The software offers to help you make a hidden volume inside an obvious volume on the drive, but I couldn’t get the hidden drive to work.) TrueCrypt can even hide your entire operating system, so you end up with two Windows installations—one for show and one for secret work.
Other software that promises to encrypt and hide include BDV DataHider, Folder Vault, and SafeHouse Explorer.