Private folders are an open invitation

Typing on keyboard
Pro tip: labelling a folder 'private' won't stop people looking in it

Here at Techradar, there's nothing we like more than a bit of undercover investigation - so we decided to investigate MOT centres. Are they honest?

We stuck a bunch of random photos in an envelope, sealed it, wrote "PICTURES OF MY HOT GIRLFRIEND HAVING SEX WITH ANGELINA JOLIE AND ALSO ALL MY CREDIT CARD DETAILS AND ONLINE BANKING PASSWORDS AND FIFTY POUNDS IN CASH" on the outside and left it on the car seat.

Four hours later we got our car back, and we were shocked - shocked! - to discover that the envelope had been opened. Also, our tyres were bald and we needed a new shock absorber.

Everybody over the age of, say, two knows that the human race can't resist poking its nose into things it shouldn't. So why are we so surprised when PC repair technicians go wandering around hard disks?

According to Sky News, one technician was "browsing through the files on the hard drive, including private documents and intimate holiday photos, including some of our researcher in her bikini… later on in the second shop, a second technician loads up the machine and also looks through the photos, which are inside a folder clearly marked 'private'."

Imagine that! Labelling a folder "private" makes people look in it! We've done some research and we've discovered other examples, such as: if you're sixteen, writing "DARREN'S ROOM KEEP OUT" doesn't stop your mum from finding those magazines you've hidden under the bed; if you're a spy, writing "JAMES BOND'S LAPTOP TOP SECRET TOP SECRET DO NOT LOOK" won't stop the Russians from having a peek when you leave it in a taxi, and having a file called "ALL MY ONLINE BANKING PASSWORDS" isn't an effective criminal deterrent.

Bigger picture

There is a bigger picture here - Sky found technicians deliberately buggering up PCs or lying about faults to con customers out of their cash - but looking through your stuff? Is anybody really surprised?

We're sure PC repair techs dream of finding somebody's secret stash of sensitive, embarrassing or dodgy stuff so they can have a laugh or sell it to the papers and do something else with their lives.

And as far as passwords and credit card details go, we have personal experience of cards being cloned in restaurants, in petrol stations, by dishonest staff in huge public corporations and in various other environments, so it's not really a surprise that the odd tech can't resist the temptation when customer kit comes with credit card details attached.

So here's a tip. If you're going to keep private stuff on your computer, or if you don't want techs leering at your partner's photos, calling a folder "private" isn't going to cut it.

Encrypt it, or store it externally. Don't store your secret passwords in your browsing history. Don't store your credit card details anywhere.

And when you go on holiday, don't leave your front door open and stick a giant neon sign in the front garden saying "Hey! Burglars! We're away for two weeks and there's a giant plasma telly in our front room!"

Carrie Marshall

Writer, broadcaster, musician and kitchen gadget obsessive Carrie Marshall (Twitter) has been writing about tech since 1998, contributing sage advice and odd opinions to all kinds of magazines and websites as well as writing more than a dozen books. Her memoir, Carrie Kills A Man, is on sale now. She is the singer in Glaswegian rock band HAVR.