If you want to keep your files safe from prying eyes, encryption is your best bet—especially if you’re going to store those files in the cloud, where data breaches and other security issues can expose them to the outside world.
There are several ways to keep your cloud-bound documents protected with a password. Unfortunately, Google has yet to add a true password-protection feature to Google Docs. There are third-party scripts that promise to “hack” password protection into the service, but it’s a rather involved process that is not guaranteed (and flawed when it comes to security).
There are also browser extensions that claim to serve a similar purpose—though we don’t recommend trusting your sensitive files to random, unknown extension developers. There are, however, a few things you can do to lock down documents you’ve stored in Google Drive.
Keep Your Devices Secure
Google Docs, Sheets, and Slides documents may not have an option for individual password protection, but they are still protected on Google’s servers. Unless you’ve shared them, other users can’t see your files without your Google Account username and password.
To protect your docs from outsiders, make sure your account is as secure as possible: use a strong password, enable two-factor authentication, and—for best results—use a hardware security key like a Titan or YubiKey to protect your accounts. With these in place, it’s highly unlikely anyone will be able to get into your account.
If you’re worried about someone snooping on your laptop or phone, you’ll want to protect those devices with a password or PIN if you haven’t already—and encrypt the onboard storage. Your phone is likely already encrypted, but on your laptop, be sure to enable BitLocker (Windows) or FileVault (Mac) in your computer’s settings to keep thieves out.
With these security precautions in place, you can feel pretty safe that your friends, family, or laptop thieves will be locked out of any Google Docs you have stored online. It does not, however, protect you if Google’s servers get hacked or its employees get nosy.
Encrypt Documents With Word or Acrobat
The most secure cloud storage is the one you control—or, at the very least, the one in which you control the encryption. However, until Google adds its own password-protection feature, the best you can do is add an extra layer of encryption to your document before you upload it.
If you have Microsoft Office installed on your PC, its built-in encryption feature is likely the easiest option. Open the document in question and head to File > Protect Document > Encrypt with Password. Pick a password for the file and make sure you remember it—if you forget, that file will be lost forever—then upload it to Google Drive. (Sadly, this won’t work in other office suites like LibreOffice.)
If you have a paid Acrobat plan, you can password protect a PDF under File > Protect Using Password, then enable a password. Otherwise, there are several free online services that can do the trick.
Google won’t be able to read the file, so say goodbye to online editing, but it’s probably worth the trade-off if you only have a few truly sensitive documents. If you need to view or edit the file, you’ll still be able to download it and open it on any PC with Microsoft Office or Adobe Acrobat installed. Decrypt the file, make your edits, then encrypt it again and replace it in Google Drive.
Encrypt Documents With Boxcryptor
If you need to encrypt non-Office documents, or you don’t own a copy of Microsoft Office, Boxcryptor is a more versatile choice. It’s very similar to Dropbox, Google Drive, and other cloud storage services, although instead of using its own cloud service, it hooks into the cloud-syncing programs already installed on your PC.
So you can install Boxcryptor, enable Google Drive in Boxcryptor’s settings, and then access Boxcryptor from File Explorer’s sidebar. Right-click on any files you want to secure, choose Boxcryptor > Encrypt, and watch the checkbox turn green. You’ll still see the files in Google Drive, but they won’t be accessible unless you have Boxcryptor installed and logged in.
(Note that Boxcryptor is free for syncing one cloud storage service between two PCs, but if you want to use multiple services—or more devices—you’ll need a paid plan for $48 per year.)
Encrypt Documents with Veracrypt
If you want something completely free that you can use with any cloud storage service and any device, Veracrypt is incredibly powerful. It’s available for Windows, macOS, and Linux and can create an encrypted container in which you can stash any files you want—then put anywhere for safe keeping.
It’s not the most user-friendly program for beginners, but it’ll do the trick at no cost. Just install the program, create a new encrypted file container within your Google Drive folder, and mount that file from Veracrypt’s main window.
It will appear as if it were an external hard drive—you can then drag your sensitive files there, unmount the volume, and the encrypted container will be safely stored in your Google account. Just know that you’ll need Veracrypt installed on any PC you use to access the documents inside that container.
It’s unfortunate that Google still hasn’t added a simple password-protect feature to Google Docs, but for now, at least you have a few different options.