This is very scary when you open your Documents or Pictures library and find nothing there!
Fortunately, in every case I have seen, the files were just hidden by the virus – they had not been deleted.
I’ll review how to fix this on Windows for internal hard drives, and have added an extra section at the bottom on how to unhide files on external USB hard drives, flash drives and memory cards.
Files Hidden By Virus – Why?
The type of virus that does this is usually a fake antivirus or fake utility (e.g. a PC ‘cleaner’) program in the form of trial software – it pretends that your computer is infected by viruses or has hard drive problems, to scare you into paying for the software to supposedly ‘fix’ these problems…
Paying is absolutely the worst thing to do because the program itself is the virus and is the cause of all the problems – and you would be giving your credit card details to a bunch of criminals.
Hiding your personal files is one highly effective method that such a virus may use – to panic you into paying for their ‘fix’, to unhide the files.
How Can I Unhide My Files?
The first thing to do is remove the virus (the fake software) as otherwise it will just hide your files 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 this:
- 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.
I don’t recommend this for most users as it is time consuming and very easy to miss certain folders that need to be unhidden.
- Automatically (recommended). Download the unhide.exe program from Bleeping Computer here, save it to your computer then double click it to run the program
This program may take quite a while (e.g. 30+ minutes) to run, depending how many files there are on your hard drive – just leave it running until it finishes.
It automatically goes through your computer and unhides all files except hidden system files – 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 personal files and folders. Once it has finished, you should now be able to view and open your files – documents, pictures, music etc just as before :-)
Once 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.
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 my review of antivirus programs.
Unhide.exe goes through all the files on every internal hard drive 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.
Unhide Files on External USB Hard Drives, Flash Drives and Memory Cards
Note that the unhide.exe program described above only works on internal hard drives. For all types of external USB storage you will need to unhide files and folders manually.
Follow these steps to unhide files on external USB devices:
- Make sure the external USB storage device is plugged into the computer
- Open an elevated (administrator) Command Prompt:
Windows 10, 8, 7, Vista – Click ‘Start’ and type CMD into the search box. Right click on the ‘CMD’ program in the search results and select ‘Run As administrator’.
You may now see a User Account Control message asking “Do you want to allow the following program to make changes to this computer?”. Click on ‘Yes’ to confirm. This will open an elevated (Administrator) level Command Prompt window
XP – click Start \ All Programs \ Accessories \ Command Prompt to open 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 example assumes that the external USB storage drive is drive letter i – you must change i to whatever your actual USB drive letter is e.g. if your USB drive letter was e then you should change the middle part of this command to
This attrib command goes through the external USB storage device and unhides all files and folders. Note that USB devices are a lot slower than internal hard drives so this process may take much longer – perhaps hours if you have 100’s of GB of data stored on it.
- 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 Attrib Command On Internal Hard Drives Too?
As mentioned earlier, the attrib command removes the ‘hidden’ attribute from ALL files on the selected drive, which is fine for external USB storage devices.
But if you run it on the internal hard drive it would unhide everything, including important Windows 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 described above does not unhide those important system files on the internal (Windows) hard drive – so it avoids that risk of future deletion (and is also therefore a little quicker than using attrib).