Best Free File Encryption Utility



Encryption is a process of encoding information so that it cannot be accessed by others unless they have the key needed to decode it. Encryption is usually used to protect highly sensitive documents, but it's also a good way to stop people from looking at your personal stuff.

Products reviewed in this article—Best Free File Encryption Utility—fall in the first item of Primary Encryption Utility Categories. Products in other categories are reviewed in Related Articles.

Read also Cautionary Notes at the end of this article.


Rated Products

Most if not all of the programs below leave the user exposed to the non-obvious threats described directly in Cautionary Notes #1.


Provides secure AES-128 encryption of files with wonderfully simple usage.

Our Rating: 
License: Free (Limited features)
Right-click integration with Windows Explorer makes AxCrypt the quickest way to encrypt individual files. AxCrypt makes it as easy to open, edit and save encrypted files as it is to work with unencrypted files. Use this one when you want file-by-file encryption that is integrated into the Windows shell.
The install program uses the Open Candy system for bundled third party software. You can decline to install the bundled software if you like.
Read full review...

AES Crypt  

A simple program using Advanced Encryption Standard to encrypt and decrypt files via a context menu in the file system.

Our Rating: 
License: Free (Open source)
Quick install. Always ready. Simple to use directly from the file system (Windows Explorer; File Explorer in Windows 8/10). Fast.
Does not remove the original, unencrypted file. AES Crypt can encrypt single or multiple files, but it does not encrypt folders. Installs Microsoft C++ Runtime.
Read full review...

Related and Alternative Products

Related Products

  • dsCrypt works with single or multiple files. dsCrypt is AES/Rijndael file encryption software with simple, multi-file, drag-and-drop operations. It is tiny, easy to use, and employs proven encryption techniques. However, it is an orphan product.
  • BCArchive offers an enhanced derivative of encrypting file compression products like Zip and 7-zip. It's from Jetico, which is based in Finland for those of you looking for a source that is not part of Five Eyes (e.g., USA). Jetico offers a range of respected encryption products, and BCArchive offers many of the same options as their commercial ones do.

Alternative Products

  • SafeHouse Explorer is a simple, free program that is small enough to use on a USB flash memory drive. You'll find excellent tutorial videos and the users manual at the website, and a screenshot-rich tutorial here.
  • Rohos Mini Drive is a "portable" program that creates a hidden, encrypted partition on USB flash drives.
  • Pismo File Mount Audit Package is a file system extension that provides Windows Explorer context menu access to special encrypted files that open to encrypted folders. Applications can write directly to these folders, which helps assure that plain-text copies of the original document are not left behind on your hard drive. Inconvenient fact #2 - The "clear-text" problem provides more details.
  • 7-Zip Portable is a powerful file compression utility that provides 256-bit AES encryption for *.7z and *.zip formats, but the Pismo program above is a better simple encryption solution because it avoids the plain-text problem.



Primary Encryption Utility Categories

Why use categories here? To bring a little order to the large catalog of encryption utility reviews at this site. This particular review article is limited to "file (and folder) encryption" utilities in the first item below. Other utilites are reviewed in Related Articles.

  1. Encryption utilities that encrypt files/folders directly - the utilities reviewed in this article. These utilities encrypt discrete files and/or folders directly, in contrast to utilities that encrypt and store files in volumes (archives, i.e., container files). File-based utilities may operate in batch mode or in on-the-fly mode.
  2. Virtual-drive encryption utilities create volumes (encrypted containers/archives) which can be mounted in the file-system as virtual drives, complete with drive letters, e.g. "V:". These drives can contain both files and folders. The computer's file system can read, write and create documents in real time, directly in cleartext. Virtual-drive utilities operate in on-the-fly mode.
  3. Full-drive encryption utilities encrypt entire storage devices, e.g., hard-drives, drive partitions and USB drives. Some of the utilities in this category can also encrypt the drive that the operating system itself is installed on.
  4. Client-side encryption utilities for the cloud: A newly emerged category. These utilities encrypt files before they are uploaded to cloud sync/storage locations. The files are encrypted in transit and while at rest in the cloud. Cloud encryption utilities employ various forms of virtualization to present cleartext client-side, and they operate in on-the-fly mode.


Cautionary Notes

  1. Operating systems are messy: Echos of your personal data—swap files, temp files, hibernation files, erased files, browser artifacts, etc.—are likely to remain on any computer that you use to access the data. It is a trivial task to extract those echos. If you need to protect against access on your hard-drive as well as in transit or externally, this is a hidden access trap.

    For example, when you encrypt and compress files, clear-text versions that existed before you compress/encrypt the file or clear-text copies that are created after you decrypt/decompress it remain on your hard drive. There may also be "Temp" files left behind. Unless you purge—not just delete—those clear-text files. :-(

  2. The fact that an encryption program "works" does not mean that it is secure. New encryption utilities often appear after someone reads up on applied cryptography, selects or devises an algorithm—maybe even a reliable open source one—implements a user interface, tests the program to make sure it works, and thinks he's done. He's not. Such a program is almost certain to harbor fatal flaws.

    "Functionality does not equal quality, and no amount of beta testing will ever reveal a security flaw. Too many products are merely buzzword compliant; they use secure cryptography, but they are not secure." —Bruce Schneier, in Security Pitfalls in Cryptography.
  3. Further advice about how to use encryption are discussed in Encryption is Not Enough, including what you need to do beyond encryption to be sure your private data is not lost or exposed.



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Have you any thoughts on VeraCrypt (a fork of, and a successor to, TrueCrypt) that is under active development (last updated 2016.10.17) - ?

VeraCrypt is reviewed in this category: Best Free Encrypted Virtual Drive Utility.

Thank you, Philip.

The question of file encryption originally came up for me when a client asked the best way to encrypt some files / folders on his Win 7 Pro (x64) laptop (Core i7 3820 QM, with 16 GB DDR3 and two Samsung 850 Pro SSDs; one for the OS, the other for data).

I had come to this page via a web search for "file encryption utilities," which also returned the nearly two year old article "Five Best File Encryption Tools," from LifeHacker (, which in turn mentioned VeraCrypt (though your page, "Best Free Encrypted Virtual Drive Utility," was not included).

Though I haven't the time to fully explore this at present, it appears that VC could be a solution -- either by encrypting just the data drive, only a partition on it to hold sensitive data or both drives (which would obviously provide the greatest protection, but perhaps be less convenient). On the other hand, something as simple as the Pismo File Mount Audit Package, or even 7-Zip or PeaZip, might do (except neither of the latter two encrypt file names -- and then there are still those various traces).

It has been awhile since I've encountered Open Candy, but I remember it being a bitch to deal with. Just because you think you are opting out doesn't mean you are and it is a mess to remove, if nothing else because it hides so well. Run, don't walk, away from anything remotely having to do with Open Candy. Nasty shit.

Hi Philip,
Just got here looking for file/directory protection and found the good stuff up above here - BUT it is a bit long in the tooth!
What's your latest favorite? :-)

ALSO what about the dual capacity of some of the file compression utils?
I can't remember how safe they are comparatively...............

Thanks for all the good work here!


Hi Himagain,

I rarely encrypt individual files, but I use 7-zip when I do. Tresorit (Best Free Encryption Utility for Cloud Storage) is the encryption tool I usually use (does not encrypt the original files in your local storage though). Tresorit now offers encrypted links for sharing/accessing individual files from the cloud. I also still use TrueCrypt for encrypted volumes (it seems to me to still present a resonable risk of compromise).

I need something simple because I am not tech savvy, I'm looking at AxCrypt, but I've been told the tool should be NIST compliant. Is AxCrypt compliant? If not, is there any encryption freeware NIST compliant or will I need to purchase encryption software?


I created a multiplatform Java based Mail and file encryption software myself after the Snowden leaks. Its a free, open source project on SourceForge.

If you want, you can give it a try on SourceForge. Its portable, user friendly and uses RSA 4096 bit and AES 128 bit encryption, supports SMTP and POP, has SHA-1 checksum calc and even an audio recorder.

How does Easy File Locker ( compare?

I run a dual boot system with Ubuntu and Windows 7 and I was very surprised (to put it mildly) to find out my hidden/encrypted Easy File Locker Windows files (folder) were openly visable and accessible from Ubuntu.

Then again I was even more shocked to find out these exact same files were also visable and accessible from our Son's network connected Xbox?

I have since moved all these private files to a password protected USB drive.

Do all of these programs suffer from similiar flaws?

UPDATE Just found this on the xoslab website, maybe I should have checked their FAQ first,
"I forgot my password, can i get the protected files back?
Yes, please start your computer into Windows Safe Mode, then all the protected files will be visible and accessible."
...seems pretty pointless to me?

It's true that freeware folder lockers are on the whole not very secure but you could do a bit better than Easy File Locker.

Wise Folder Hider and Alfa Folder Locker both work even in Safe Mode although they can still be accessed with Linux and probably X-box too though I wouldn't know about that. The problem is as Philip says, that they work by using the Windows O/S therefore are vulnerable to access from non-Windows O/S's.

WFH possibly has an edge because its locked folders are set as "Protected System Directories" and thus remain hidden if Explorer is set to "Show Hidden Files and Folders". Also the folder is renamed to "..." giving you a bit more plausible deniability.

Alfa on the other hand is a bit more transparent I think (i.e. easier to understand what it does) although you do have to hide the folders manually.

None of these are a match for individual encryption though... I guess it's a trade off as locking and hiding a folder with one of these is pretty much instant regardless of how big the folder is, while encrypting a directory can take a long time if there's a lot of stuff in it.

My own favourite for encyption is Androsa File Protector. It's a bit old and unsupported for ages now but it's an excellent tool. It has a selection of encryption levels plus options for secure-deletion of temporary files created during encryption, secure-deletion of source files and scrambling of filenames on encryption. It can also create self-extracting encrypted files which means you don't need the program itself to decrypt the files, just the password.

All three are available as portable versions meaning that you can try them out without needing to install anything.

Wise Folder Hider -

Alfa Folder Locker -

Androsa Portable -

As far as any real protection, yes it's pointless. Any 6-yr old who has heard about how these programs simply tell Windows not to display the file in Windows/File explorer could find them. Most 60-yr olds probably wouldn't have a clue, so there is some protection. ;)

The Sophos site does not seem to have the free encryption software listed any more at the linked location for download, just virus, mobile and firewall software.

Thanks for the note bitman. I see they have cleaned up their site, and swept up the free encryption utility too. I've removed the listing.

Hi. I did a bit of digging and it looks like it is still available but not direct from the Sophos site. Version sfe_2401_sfx.exe can still be downloaded from, etc.

I'm always a bit wary of downloading anything from sites other than the publisher but this does appear to be the original.

Thanks for very informative article..however, via googling i found some other tools Silver Key freeware by kryptel, BCArchive (Jetico Product)..too

Would it be possible for you to post any reviews on these products's and con's of these tools..which one is best when compared below..

1. Axcrypt.
2. Sophos Free encryption.
3. BCArchive.
4.Silver Key


Thanks for the comment and info blazeknick. Sophos Free Encryption has been discontinued. I'll take a look at BCArchive and Silver Key, and inclode those that fit the scope of this category. AXCrypt is already listed.

For those of you who want to remove OpenCandy from Axcrypt:

Extract the Axcrypt Installer with OpenCandy Offer using 7-Zip.
Open the extracted folder and delete $PLUGINSDIR.

This should remove the OpenCandy junk from the installer.

I wanted a really simple file encryption program that I could just give it a file or folder, password and that's it.

I tried Truecrypt, knowing it was the king of all encryption software. However, it is not for the lame user like myself, it's very complicated application. So not for everybody.

Then I came across a small utility WinGuard Pro version 2013. I gave it a try, I was impressed. I gave it a folder to encrypt, with password and clicked Encrypt. It told me it was encrypting my files at 128 bit AES - sounds good too me! After a minute it has processed all my files and directories.

I would recommend it for anyone that just needs to get the job done. It was free too, I can keep it on my PC for forever and no charge. Very impressed.

John, London, UK

I have been reading about a program called "Rubberhose". It doesn't seem to be active but what I read sounded like it would be the perfect tool for safeguarding information on a computer. Anyone have any experience or information on this program?

If this relates to the same program, Rubberhose was written around 2006 by Julian Assange of WikiLeaks infamy. There was little or no follow-through, and the website is now flakey. It's a good concept, but at the time Bruce Schneier, of encryption fame, had this to say (interpolation mine).
"The devil really is in the details with something like this [it's awfully easy to screw up the implementation], and I would hesitate to use this in places where it really matters. without some extensive review. But I'm pleased to see that someone is working on this problem."
Google "rubberhose deniable encryption" for more.