Trying to access a file or folder on Windows but don’t have permission to access it? Modified system file permissions are stopping you from opening the file or folder, and it may be the handy work of a hacker.

Not having permission to access files you normally open is irritating, but it could also be a sign of a ransomware attack. Threat actors will often modify system file permissions to gain control of your sensitive information, asking for something in return.

You may see messages such as, “You don’t currently have permission to access this folder” or, “Windows cannot access the specified device path or file.” If you no longer have an administrator account on Windows, it can be tricky to gain control of changes on your computer.

Follow this guide to fix having no permission to access files and folders on Windows and find out how to keep your PC safe from malware with the best antivirus.

Can’t access files on Windows: Quick fixes

To gain access to files, folders or apps that deny access, you’ll need to modify system file permissions on an administrator account. If you’re the only user on your device, this should be the default account.

We recommend following each step below to fix the issue. Even if you gain access, it’s best to use an antivirus scanner to make sure no malware will modify file permissions again.

Modify system file permissions

Can't access files on Windows Permissions Options

With an administrator account on Windows, you can modify how users interact with a file or folder – including yourself. 

Right-click on the file or folder with permissions you want to fix. Select Properties. In the next window, click the Security tab. To modify permissions, select Edit. Choose your user name or group and check to see what is allowed under Permissions for [username]. In the Deny column, uncheck any box that doesn’t allow access to the file or folder. Click Apply

This will give you full access to the file, folder or app. 

You can also add other users or groups to grant them permission to access these files. In the Edit window, select Add. From here, click Advanced, then Find Now. Select the user you want to add (for example, Everyone) to the permission list and select OK.

If these options are greyed out, you’ll need to head back to the security tab and click Advanced. From here, uncheck Replace all child object permission entries with inheritable permission entries from this object and select Apply

You should now have access to the file, folder or app, along with other users on the device. 

Create a new administrator account

Lost Administrator Rights Windows Change Account Type Settings

If you don’t have access to an administrator account, or lost administrator permissions, you need to create a new admin account in order to do the first step.

To do this, you’ll need to restart your computer in Safe Mode. There are a few ways to do this, but a simple way is to head into Settings.

Type in “Change advanced start-up options” in the search box located on the taskbar. Under Recovery, click Restart now next to Advanced startup. Then click Restart now.

From here, go to Troubleshoot > Advanced options > Startup Settings > Restart. Using the number keys, select Enable Safe Mode.

Once done, type “Command Prompt” in the search box on the taskbar. In this window, type in:
net user <username> <password> /add

Replace the <username> and <password> with ones of your choosing for the new account. 

Then, use the Command Prompt to type in the following command:
net localgroup administrators <username> /add

This will add a new user account with admin rights. You can use this account from now on.

Update your software and restart your computer

Windows update settings for blocked software updates

Updating your Windows PC software and restarting your computer can often fix problems with your user account. Sometimes, it can update system file permissions that were once denied – especially if it was modified by a threat actor.

Cybercriminals take advantage of security vulnerabilities on your device. These zero-day vulnerabilities allow threat actors to exploit computer systems until developers mitigate them, which can cause major damage. 

Updating your system’s software can resolve the issue. A software update often contains security patches that help protect your device, as developers work to protect users from known zero-day attacks and other forms of malware trying to infect your device, especially with unfamiliar processes. 

You can update your device through its settings. For example, you can update your Windows PC by navigating to Start > Settings > Windows Update > Check for updates. If there are any, download and install the update. 

Change your passwords

Norton 360 Password Manager

If you can’t access files you could originally open and permissions have been modified without you knowing, chances are your PC has been infected with a virus or malware, and your online accounts and devices are at risk of being compromised.

To help mitigate potential malware threats or hackers taking control of your accounts, change your passwords and use a strong password to stop suspicious activity. 

Using password managers such as LastPass or 1Password can help manage all your passwords in one place, create a complex, near-unbreakable master password and encrypt your information. 

Changing passwords will stop hackers from trying to steal any sensitive information and your online accounts. 

Use antivirus software to detect and stop malware

Norton 360 Security and Settings

The easiest way to stop malware, especially ransomware, from modifying system file permissions is by using one of the best antivirus software like Norton 360 (from $19.99/year). It will keep you safe from any malicious software, like ransomware, adware, spyware, phishing and more.

That’s not all; antivirus software can provide extra features like VPNs, cloud storage, PC boosters and more. Norton 360 has all these features and extra security tools that can backup your data, prevent online identity theft and stop malware. 

What’s more, Norton 360 comes with monitoring features to identify all suspicious activity on your device. It will help detect and notify you about any unusual activity and stop it using it’s protection tools. 

Check out our Norton 360 review and Norton 360 Platinum review to see which antivirus package suits you best.

Why can’t I access my files on Windows

One of the most common causes of modified system file permissions on Windows (and any device) is malware – particularly ransomware. If you haven’t changed these permissions yourself, or it isn’t due to a software update, administrator rights or system corruption, a hacker may have blocked access.

Ransomware is a type of malware that cybercriminals use to restrict access to files on a victim’s device, encrypting user data and demanding a ransom payment to gain access to them. If users don’t comply, these hackers will threaten them by leaking personal data they’ve locked down. It’s like someone changing the lock on your door, making new copies of a key, and asking for an outrageous sum of money to gain access to your property again – or they’ll sell off everything you own.

Advanced malware may use more complicated techniques to lock down files or folders, meaning users can’t modify file permissions using the usual steps. Unfortunately, even Bitdefender’s Director of Threat Research states that “ransomware is irreversible.” The most important step in keeping your data safe is to have a backup of your files. Antivirus software such as Bitdefender or Norton includes cloud backup and can stop ransomware from causing further damage to your system.

Ransomware attack on Laptop

Can any antivirus software stop viruses and malware?

The best antivirus software will stop malware in its tracks. Not all antivirus software is equal, as some don’t have high malware detection and protection rates or have accredited lab scores to back them up.

However, many high-standard AV protections offer near-perfect scores when detecting and protecting against malware, meaning even complex malicious software can’t go unnoticed. Even if it’s a malicious software modifying system file permissions, it will be able to stop it in its tracks.

Services, including Norton 360 (from $19.99/year) and Bitdefender (from $19.99/year), include device monitoring features to help uncover suspicious activity early and offer the tools to fight off cyberattacks. Whether its a phishing attack, ransomwarespyware or infostealer malware, these security products have the tools to protect you.

These services have protection features that block malicious activity on your device, along with extra features like cloud backup and PC boosters. To make sure your device is ready to identify and block malware damaging your system, set yourself up with an antivirus.

Best antivirus to prevent viruses and malware

1. Norton 360 🥇From $19.99/year
Best overall antivirus of 2023

Norton 360 on Laptop scaled

“Norton” and “antivirus” are synonymous these days, as the well-established cybersecurity brand has successfully fought against malware, viruses and nasty software threats since 1990. 

Norton 360 offers excellent antivirus protection and extra features that make for a valuable, all-in-one security product. Its Norton 360 Deluxe and Premium package may cost a pretty penny. Still, with security across multiple platforms, a full-blown VPN, Dark Web Monitoring, Parental Controls and more, it will have a household free of cyber threats. 

Norton’s certainty of its antivirus software’s capabilities is clearly defined by the brand’s 100% Virus Protection Promise. If a device protected by Norton 360 can’t get rid of a virus, the user receives their money back. It’s a big claim, but unquestionably, no one should expect to get that refund.

If you have the money for it, you can also check out the premium Norton 360 Platinum package for even more online protection, including from identity theft. Without a doubt one of the best antivirus to get.

Read our full Norton 360 review

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2. Bitdefender 🥈 From $19.99/year
Best security features and tools

Bitdefender Lead Image scaled

Bitdefender takes the spot as best antivirus, and for good reason. It’s not enough that it boasts near-perfect lab test scores across the board, as it goes the extra mile by giving users access to a plethora of advanced security features.

Bitdefender goes above and beyond in the features department, all while keeping known malware, ransomware, and viruses at bay. It will defend your device against new attacks, provide security for online transactions, keep you safe with a reliable VPN, and protect your accounts with a password manager.

It’s a no-brainer when it comes to defending your devices against virtually any form of cyberattack, and its top-notch protection extends to its most affordable package, too. Protecting your PC and smartphone, from Windows and macOS to iOS and Android, is becoming even more necessary, and Bitdefender is the tricked-out shield you need. 

Read our full Bitdefender review

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3. Malwarebytes 🥉 From $44.99/year
Best antivirus for Windows PC

Malwarebytes Logo scaled

Hundreds of malware emerge every minute, and it’s Malwarebytes’ mission to detect and conquer them all. Does the antivirus do this successfully? Yes, but there’s wiggle room for improvements.

Malwarebytes’ no-nonsense approach to protecting your devices from the onslaught of malware and viruses is effective for those who need a reliable antivirus that will detect and remove malicious software, especially with its free version. However, while its premium service provides 24/7 real-time detection, conveniently blocks vicious ransomware and shields users from malicious websites, it doesn’t go beyond on the feature front.

That’s no bad thing, as sometimes a user only needs a powerful antivirus to keep them safe from cyber threats. But considering its competitors add a few more security tools, such as data breach monitoring and a firewall, there’s room for improvement. 

Read our full Malwarebytes review

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4. Avast One 🙌 From $39.99/year
Best antivirus for beginners + free plan available!

Avast One logo on laptop

With Avast One, you can protect your device from viruses, malware and ransomware for free. That’s right, and you don’t have to pay a dime for the extra security features the antivirus throws in, including its VPN, firewall and more.

Avast One will safeguard your device from malware, comes with ransomware protection, blocks harmful websites and downloads from the web, scans your emails for malicious attachments, stops hackers from infiltrating your device through Wi-Fi with a firewall – the list goes on. That’s a lot of tools for software that’s free, and the included VPN and the ability to speed up your PC are a welcome bonus.

It’s the ideal antivirus software for home use, as it takes the hassle out of staying wary of cyber threats lurking around, even if you’re not a tech whizz. What’s more, if you are looking for added precautions, its paid Individual and Family packages still boast great value. Hard to go wrong with this best antivirus.

Read our full Avast One review

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5. AVG👍 From 4.99/month
Best antivirus for + free plan available!

AVG Antivirus logo scaled

You can never go wrong with free antivirus protection, but some deliver even better detection and protection rates, along with extra security features, without costing a dime. This is where AVG antivirus shines.

AVG provides reliable protection and only a small impact on performance for Windows, Mac, iOS and Android. It safeguards your devices against malware, viruses and zero-day exploits, along with blocking malicious links and attachments in emails. Throw in phishing protection when surfing the internet and extra security features such as its SafePrice browser extension and Network Inspector, and you’ve got yourself a do-it-all antivirus.

Sure, you can find all of these perks with Avast, but if you like a slick, darker user interface that’s easy to navigate, then AVG is for you.

Read our full AVG Antivirus review

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Darragh Murphy
Darragh Murphy is fascinated by all things bizarre, which usually leads to assorted coverage varying from the mischievous world of online security to washing machines designed for earbuds. Whether it's connecting Scar from The Lion King to two-factor authentication or turning his love for laptops into a fabricated rap battle from 8 Mile, he believes there’s always a quirky spin to be made. When he's not checking out the latest devices and all things tech, he can be found swimming laps, watching terrible shark movies, and trying to find time to game.  Previous Editor at Laptop Mag and News Editor at Time Out Dubai, specialising in food culture, nightlife events, gaming, tech and entertainment.

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