The new security feature is called controlled folder access and it is in the Windows Fall Creator's Update. If you do not yet have this version of Windows, you soon will because it is hard to avoid Windows updates these days.
The feature is part of Windows Defender, so if you use third party security software then it may be disabled. I don't use any other security software and Windows Defender seems to do a pretty good job of keeping the computer safe.
The purpose of controlled folder access is to prevent unauthorised applications, such as malware, from accessing your files in the Documents, Photos, Music, Videos and other folders. If malware cannot access your files, it boosts their security and safety.
Enable controlled folder access
- Press Windows+I to open the Settings app
- Click Update & Security
- Select Windows Defender in the list on the left.
- Click Open Windows Defender Security Center
- Click Virus & threat protection
- Click Virus & threat protection settings
- Turn on the switch under Controlled folder access
See the protected folders
When the switch is on, there are two links below Controlled folder access. Click Protected folders to see a list of the folders that Windows is protecting. It includes Documents, Pictures, Videos, Music, Desktop and many more. The list is long.
Folders appear twice in the list because there are personal folders in C:\Users\YourName and also public folders in C:\Users\Public. Both are protected. It means that unauthorised apps cannot create or modify files in the protected folders. Your files are safe and malware for example, cannot delete them or change them.
Allow apps to access folders
Under the Controlled folder access switch is a link, Allow an app through controlled folder access. Click it and it says that most apps will be allowed access to these folders. I guess Microsoft has a whitelist of apps that are OK or blacklist of those that are not.
Apps in the Windows Store should be fine, but if there are problems then click the plus button to add an app to the allowed list.
Does controlled folder access work?
I must point out that I am using the beta of Windows 10 Fall Creator’s Update, so this is not the finished version and there might still be work to do on it.
The problem is not that controlled folder access didn’t work, but that it worked too well. It prevented applications from using all the system folders, which is pretty much where all your files are.
I tried the portable version of GIMP and a fresh install of Paint.NET. When I tried to save images to the Pictures folder, they both failed. This is to be expected, so I added them to the Allowed list. However, this did not allow them to save files to the Pictures folder. Is this feature only for Windows Store apps or did I just happen to choose the two apps it doesn't work with?
Perhaps this feature is still under development. I hope so because it could provide useful extra protection for your files by preventing unknown applications, possibly malicious, from accessing your files. I wonder if it could stop ransomware encrypting them? Now that would be useful.
At the moment it is a bit of a nuisance because software I have installed, like GIMP and Paint.NET, cannot save files. For this reason I have turned off controlled folder access. It is a feature to watch out for when Windows 10 Fall Creator’s Update is released and hopefully you will be able to whitelist any app you want, while keeping out malware.