How to Access Restricted Folders in Windows

If you are stuck in a situation where Windows stops you from accessing your own data, then I may be able to help you turn the tide.

There could be multiple reasons why you may be seeing “Access denied” error when you try to access or modify a folder. In this post, I will try to list all the possible solutions to the Windows access denied error.

Note: The following methods will only work if you have administrator rights of the PC. If you have a standard account, then you should talk to the PC administrator about this, as standard accounts have a limited access.

Method 1: Take ownership

Usually, this error arises when there is a conflict with the ownership of the folder. This occurs after upgrading to a new version of Windows or messing with the user control options. Fortunately, as an administrator, you should have no problem becoming the owner again.

  1. Right-click on the restricted folder and select Properties. Now, move to the Security tab and click on the Advanced button.
  2. Here click on Change link next to the Owner.
  3. Next, enter your username in the Enter the object name to select section and click on Check Names.
  4. If you entered the right username, it should be automatically applied.
  5. Now click on OK and checkbox next to Replace owner on sub containers and objects option right below the Owner option. This will apply permissions to all the folders and subfolders.

This should solve your access denied issue and let you access the folder and its content.

If you don’t want to go through the above process or somehow it didn’t work for you, then a third-party tool can do this for you as well.

Take Ownership is a handy tool that will add a context menu entry to easily take ownership. After installing the tool, right-click on the folder and select Take Ownership from the context menu to become the owner.

Method 3: Use hidden administrator account

Apart from the regular administrator account, there’s another hidden administrator account that’s much more powerful and has access to most areas of Windows. If you can’t access the folder due to any privilege issue, then this high privileged administrator account should be able to open it.

Note: It is not advised to use elevated administrator account regularly as it gives access to areas you should not be skipping around (the reason why it’s hidden). When you are done using it, you should disable it.

When you manage to access the restricted folder in this account, make sure you move it’s content to a different place where the regular administrator account works.

Method 3: Check if it’s encrypted

There is a chance that the folder is encrypted, which is why you are getting the Access denied error. Here’s how to check if it is encrypted:

  1. Right-click on the folder and select Properties from the context menu. Here under the General tab, click on the Advanced button.
  2. If the Encrypt contents to secure data option is checked it means the data is encrypted and you will have to decrypt it using the right certificates.

You should contact the user who encrypted this folder and have them decrypt it from their account.

Method 4: Use the Unlocker tool

Unlocker is a handy folder unlocker tool that will help you solve many folder access issues with a single click. Just install the tool and it will add an entry in the context menu. Right-click on the restricted folder and select Unlocker.

The tool will scan the folder and show what is stopping you from accessing the folder. You just need to click on Unlock All here and Unlocker will automatically fix all the issues.

Method 5: Access it from the Safe Mode

There is also a chance a third-party application or virus may be preventing you from accessing the folder.

You should start the PC in Safe mode and then try accessing the folder. In Windows 8 and 10, you can access the Safe mode from the boot options, and in Windows 7 you can press the F8 key multiple times while the PC is starting to open Safe mode menu.

Safe mode starts the PC with limited drivers and no third-party apps, so no app or virus should stop you from accessing the folder. If you can access it in the Safe mode, then try deleting recently installed apps and scan your PC for viruses with a good antivirus software, such as Avast.

Method 6: Try another user account

There is a chance your user profile may get corrupted and Windows may not be able to open files/folders in it. Try accessing the data from another user account to confirm this.

In case you don’t have another user account, then you can easily create one. You should refer to these guides by Microsoft support to create new user account in Windows 7, 8 and Windows 10.

Wrap up

The access denied error usually occurs when you have limited authority or the folder is not in the reach of your user account. Taking ownership of the folder or using the hidden administrator account should solve this problem.

And of course, there could be many other types of system and application based errors that may prevent you from modifying the folder, but the Unlocker utility should be able to take care of them automatically.