This is scary when you open (My) Documents or (My) Pictures and see nothing there! Fortunately, in every case we have seen, your files are just hidden – they have not been deleted. UPDATED December 2012 – the fix below still works but I have added extra points in the Notes section at the bottom for external USB hard drives/flash drives and memory cards.
Why Would A Virus Hide My Files? The type of virus that does this is usually a fake antivirus or fake utility (e.g. hard drive checker) program in the form of trial software – it may pretend that your computer is infected by viruses or has hard drive problems and tries to scare you into paying for a full version of the software to supposedly ‘fix’ the problems.
Paying is absolutely the worst thing to do because the program itself is a virus and the cause of all your problems – and you will be giving your credit card details to a bunch of crooks! Hiding your documents is another way the virus tries to panic you into paying for their ‘solution’.
How Can I Unhide My Files? The first thing to do is remove the virus (the fake software) as otherwise it will just hide them again… Follow our series of guides on how to remove viruses then come back to this page to unhide your files and folders.
Assuming you have already removed all the viruses on your computer you can now unhide your personal files and folders. There are 2 ways of doing it:
1. Manually (not recommended). You can unhide each item by entering a command prompt and changing the ‘hidden’ attribute of the files using the attrib command. We do not recommend this for most users as it is time consuming and very easy to miss certain folders that need to be unhidden.
2. Automatically (recommended). Download the unhide.exe program from Bleeping Computer here, save it to your computer then double click it to run the program – it may take quite a while (e.g. 2 – 30+ minutes) to run depending how many files there are on your hard drive – just leave it running until it finishes.
The program automatically goes through your computer and unhides all files except hidden system ones – these are Windows files that are supposed to be (and should stay) hidden. Unhide.exe basically automates the attrib command to change the hidden attribute of all your files and folders. Once it has finished you should now be able to view and open your documents/pictures/music again just as before 🙂
1. If you have successfully unhidden your files, see my guide on how to avoid virus infections in the first place – prevention is easier (and much less stressful!) than cure.
2. No antivirus program is 100% effective so you may just have been unlucky in getting infected – but if you want to check how your antivirus program compares to the best ones, see our review of antivirus programs.
3. Unhide.exe goes through all the files on the internal hard drives in your computer – most people only have one internal hard drive but, if you have 2, then it may take twice as long to run.
External USB Hard Drives, USB Flash Drives and Memory Cards
Note that the unhide program only works on internal hard drives. For all types of external storage you will need to unhide folders and documents manually:
- Make sure the external storage device is plugged into the computer
- Open an elevated (admin) Command Prompt:
XP – click Start \ All Programs \ Accessories \ Command Prompt
Vista/Windows 7 – click Start \ All Programs \ Accessories then right click on ‘Command Prompt’ and click on ‘Run as administrator’
Both options open up a Command Prompt window.
- Type in the following command (see Note after it) then press Enter:
attrib -h -r -s i:\*.* /s /d
Note – this assumes that your external storage drive is the i drive – if not, you must change the letter i to whatever your external drive letter is E.g. if your flash drive is the f drive you would change the middle bit to f:\*.*
This attrib command goes through the external storage device and unhides all files and folders. USB devices are a lot slower than internal hard drives so the process may take much longer – possibly hours if you have 100’s of GBs of data stored on them.
Once finished, the cursor returns to a flashing command prompt on a new line as shown below – now close the Command Prompt window:
Why Not Use This Command On Internal Drives Too?
The attrib command removes the ‘hidden’ attribute from ALL files on the selected drive. If you run it on the internal drive it would unhide everything – including important system files which are supposed to be hidden (to stop you deleting them by mistake and then finding that Windows no longer works)
Whereas the unhide.exe program does not unhide those important system files on the internal (Windows) drive – it avoids that risk and is also a little quicker as a result.