The lock screen on your smartphone is an essential barrier to anyone looking to gain access to the device: It stops people from getting at your data, your social media accounts, your banking apps, and everything else.
However, you may well want to add a second barrier to entry for anyone who gets past your lock screen—whether it’s friends or relatives who have borrowed your phone, or someone more sinister who’s managed to work out how to bypass the lock screen.
In those situations, a secure folder can protect your most important files—such as photos or documents—from prying eyes, requiring another authentication method such as a PIN code or a recognized fingerprint before it will open up.
There are options built into Android and iOS, as well as third-party apps you can turn to if you want to set up a secure folder of some sort on your smartphone.
If You’re Using an Android Phone
The good news if you’re using a midrange or premium Samsung Galaxy handset is that there’s a Secure Folder feature built in. To enable it, go to Settings and choose Biometrics and Security, then Secure Folder: You’ll be prompted to create a Samsung account or sign into an existing one, and then you’ll be able to choose your lock method. You can protect the folder with a pattern, PIN, password, or fingerprint scan.
The Secure Folder appears on the home screen by default, though you can hide it through the same Secure Folder menu in Settings—no one else will be able to get into that folder without the login method you’ve specified. When you’re in the Secure Folder, you can add files by tapping the + (plus) button.
Another way to get files into your Secure Folder is from the apps they're already in. In the Samsung Gallery app, for example, you can select one or more images, tap the More button in the lower right corner, then pick Move to Secure Folder. If you need to delete your Secure Folder, go back to the Secure Folder menu in Settings.
Other options on Android are available, but the best one depends on what you want to protect. If you want to lock away sensitive photos and videos in Google Photos, for example, the feature is built right in: From the app, pick Library, Utilities, then Get Started under Locked Folder. Follow the instructions, which will involve entering your screen lock code.
Images and videos in the Locked Folder won’t show up in searches or on other screens, and aren’t backed up to the cloud. You can send files straight there from the Google Camera app (gallery icon top right, then Locked Folder) or from the photo gallery in Google Photos (select your items, tap More, then Move to Locked Folder).
If none of those options cover your needs, there are plenty of third-party options available, as you would expect. For example, OneDrive for Android has a Personal Vault space that needs an extra level of authentication to access, though you’ll need to pay Microsoft for some cloud storage space if you want to save more than three files in it.
There’s also the free Norton App Lock, which takes a slightly different approach. It lets you lock away entire apps behind a passcode—not only protecting your files from unwanted access but locking away entire apps. It’s also a handy app to have around if you’re regularly lending your phone to other people and want to control which parts of the device they have access to.