How to secure a Windows PC with controlled folder access

If you looked at this when it was first introduced into Windows and rejected it, it is time for another look because this security feature now works well and protects your PC from threats.

If you have not yet discovered controlled folder access in Windows 10, you are missing out on an important security feature that protects files on your PC. It prevents unauthorised access to certain folders on the drive and nothing can access them without your permission. This goes a long way to preventing malware and ransomware from deleting or corrupting your files.

It protects your Documents, Pictures, Videos, Photos and Desktop folders, including those in the C:\Users\Public folder and Documents on OneDrive. In addition to these, you can add any other folder you choose.

I looked at this when it launched and turned it off about 10 minutes later. The problem was that controlled folder access blocked everything and prevented apps I needed from saving files to the folders I wanted. That issue seems to have been fixed in the current version and now it is easier to enable read and write access for programs that need to use system folders.

Controlled folder access increases the security of your files on a Windows PC and if you have not yet used it or looked at it some time ago, take a fresh look at it, it works better than ever and protects your files from malware and ransomware. You can, of course, turn off controlled folder access, but If you configure it right, it helps secure your PC.

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1 Search Windows Settings

Search Windows Settings for controlled folder access

There is more than one way to get to controlled folder access and here is one. Open the Settings app in Windows 10 and type ‘controlled’ into the search box. Click Controlled folder access in the search suggestions.

2 Enable controlled folder access

Turn on controlled folder access in Windows Security app

The Windows Security app opens (it used to be called Windows Defender), and there is a simple on/off switch under Controlled folder access. When it is turned on, some links appear below. Click Protected folders.

3 Add protected folders

Add protected folders to controlled folder access in Windows 10

A long list of protected folders is displayed, including Documents, Pictures, Music, and videos. There is also a button at the top to add extra folders. Click it and select a folder you want to protect on the PC’s disk.

Here a Work folder in OneDrive was added. Click a folder in this list if you ever want to remove the protection. You cannot remove the default folders, like Documents and others. Only the folders you have added.

4 View protection messages

A warning notification from Controlled folder access in Windows 10

Controlled folder access is designed to prevent malware from accessing your folders on the disk. However, it might block legitimate programs too. If you are using a program and find that it cannot save or edit a file, look for a notification like this.

In the notification above, GIMP photo editor was prevented from saving a photo in this instance. There was an error message in GIMP, a virus and threat protection notification in the bottom right corner of the screen and a notification added to Action Center (click the rightmost icon in the taskbar).

GIMP is not a virus or a threat of course. Controlled folder access can block everything, but you can allow programs you know are safe to access protected folders.

5 View blocked programs

Windows Security protection history showing recent events

If you are quick, you can click the notification in the corner of the screen (it disappears after a few seconds). Otherwise, go to Controlled folder access and click Block history under the on/off switch (see step 2)

Protection history shows all events and programs blocked by controlled folder access is just one type of event. On the right it says Low, which means low importance or a minor event (the Filter button lets you filter security events by various things, like the severity). Click Protected folder access blocked.

6 View protection events

Viewing a security event in Windows Security app

Information about the blocked program is displayed and you can see the filename of the executable program and the folder that it was prevented from accessing. Down at the bottom is an Actions button and when clicked, there is an option to Allow on device.

If you are sure the program is safe and is not malware, click it. The setting is remembered and no more notifications are triggered by this app.

7 Unblock blocked programs

Controlled folder access settings in Windows 10

It is possible to manually add programs before they trigger a controlled folder access block event. Just go to Controlled folder access and click Allow an app through controlled folder access (under the on/off switch in step 2).

This feature has been in from the start, but for some reason it never worked for me. Now it does and you can allow your favourite programs to access protected folders like Documents and Pictures. Malware like ransomware, which encrypts your files and holds you to ransom until you pay to unlock them, is blocked.