WinRAR Password Protected Files: Secure?

Here’s how secure WinRAR password protected files are:

WinRAR password-protected files are encrypted with military-grade protection. 

They essentially cannot be cracked by brute-force attacks, and you do not need to worry about third parties seeing these files. 

All of that hinges on the password itself being sufficiently strong, which is not something WinRAR controls.

So if you want to learn all about how secure WinRAR password-protected files are exactly, then this article is for you.

Let’s get started!

WinRAR Password Protected Files: Safe? (All the Info)

What Is WinRAR?

To understand how WinRAR protects files, it’s probably easier to start with a clear idea of what WinRAR really is. 

This is a program designed to work with Windows that can compress, encrypt, and archive information on your computer (or other device).

What does all of that really mean?

Compressing a file allows it to take up less digital space on your device without getting rid of any of the information on the file. 

So, if you’ve ever tried to email a file that was too big to share, compressing it might help you. 

The file will be smaller, but it still has everything that matters. 

File compression is actually pretty complicated, so if you want to get into the nuts and bolts of it, this is a pretty good resource.

Archiving is another matter. 

This is basically a robust system that reorganizes information to be more efficient on your device. 

Many archivers can also effectively back up information, so you’re at a lower risk of ever losing data that is important to you.

When it comes to password-protected files, that’s referring to WinRAR’s encryption system. 

This is something that makes it impossible for outside parties to read your files unless they have the password.

How Does WinRAR Secures Password Protected Files? (6 Things)

So, when it comes to password protection, WinRAR is leaning heavily on encryption. 

I’ll explain how that works in a moment, but first, it’s important to understand that encryption isn’t the only way WinRAR offers protection. 

It’s at the heart of it all, but WinRAR is also providing you with the ability to customize how you password protect your data. 

I’ll discuss strategies for this after I explain how encryption works with WinRAR.

#1 Encryption

WinRAR relies on encryption practices to protect files. 

Specifically, it uses AES 256-bit encryption

This is designed to protect files, archives, and metadata. 

You can encrypt individual files or entire folders. 

This grants a lot of freedom in how you apply WinRAR security, and with a good strategy, you can create robust layers of protection for your files.

Now, all of that is a technical explanation. 

I’m going to break down what each of those terms really means in a bit. 

Before that, it’s important to emphasize one thing. 

All of WinRAR’s encryption protection is based on passwords. 

You get to pick the password for any file that you secure with this software. 

If your password is weak or revealed, then WinRAR’s protection becomes meaningless.

So, this all starts with a good password, and that’s on you. 

The rest is covered by WinRAR, as you’ll see.

#2 Password Security Tips

So, let’s take a minute to talk about password security. 

How do you make a good password? 

You need three things: length, complexity, and uniqueness.

Length is the most important factor. 

If someone is using a computer to try to crack or guess a password, adding characters makes the process a lot harder. 

Let me link this again for emphasis. 

Every character you add to a password increases its security by an exponential factor, and it’s easy to understand. 

How many ways can you combine a three-letter password? 

The answer is 17,576. 

That might seem like a lot, but a computer could go through all of those combinations in a blink. 

If you add just one character, the number of combinations jumps up to 456,976. 

Every character you add grows that number even faster. 

So, long passwords are good.

But complexity matters a lot too. 

Those calculations are just looking at the alphabet. 

Passwords can distinguish between upper and lower case letters. 

So, if you use both, then the number of possible combinations for a three-letter password jumps up to 140,608. 

If you add numbers and characters, then it’s even harder to crack the password. 

That means that a long password with a mix of upper case, lower case, numbers, and symbols is the best.

But uniqueness is also very important for two reasons. 

First, data breaches happen. 

If your password is leaked in one, then a hacker might try to use that password on all of your accounts. 

If you use the same password over and over, you’re in trouble. 

Even if you don’t repeat passwords, uniqueness still matters. 

If you just make your password out of real words and replace some of the letters with numbers or symbols, it’s not as secure as it feels (even if it’s pretty long). 

That’s because the primary way people crack passwords is by guessing the most common combinations, and over time, they’re only getting better at it. 

If your password is a truly random assortment of letters, numbers, and symbols, then a hacker has no head start to try to guess it. 

They have to do it by brute force, and if it’s long enough, it’s really an impossible task. 

The most secure passwords can’t be cracked by a computer in the remaining lifespan of the universe.

#3 AES Encryption

WinRAR is pretty much built on the foundation of AES encryption

AES stands for Advanced Encryption Standard. 

This is a symmetric encryption method that uses a substitution permutation network (SPN).

More terms?

Bear with me. 

Being symmetric means that AES uses the same key for encryption and decryption. 

This simplifies the process and makes it a little easier and smoother to manage your encrypted files. 

Also, symmetric encryption is able to create more security with smaller encryption keys. 

I’ll get into why that matters in the next section. 

What matters most right now is that symmetric encryption is powerful and reliable.

As for SPN, this is a fancy term to explain that AES encrypts files multiple times. 

When you think about how encryption works, it basically uses a complicated code to change letters and numbers in a file into something that makes no sense without the code. 

But, a really smart computer system might actually be able to crack the encryption code with enough time (it’s a hypothetical threat more than a real one).

SPN makes sure that this isn’t an issue. 

It encrypts all of the data on a file. Then, it goes over another pass and encrypts the encrypted data. 

It does this multiple times. 

The information is so scrambled at that point that there’s essentially no risk of someone cracking the encryption. 

The only way to unscramble the information is with the encryption key, which is only accessible to someone with the file’s password.

#4 256-Bit Security

Let’s talk more about encryption keys. 

They’re really the heart of the whole thing. 

For the most part, you can think of encryption as a set of instructions that a computer uses to scramble or unscramble data. 

The key is what actually holds the specific instructions.

You can think of a key as the combination number on a Master Lock. 

There are three numbers that tell you the specific way to turn the dial in order to open the lock. 

Encryption keys are like this, but they’re profoundly more complicated. 

A traditional Master Lock has three steps in it. 

A 256-bit encryption key has 256 steps in it. 

Think about how hard it would be to guess your way through that. It’s basically impossible.

In fact, we should probably spend a minute to emphasize how impossible this is. 

256-bit encryption is so complex that even a powerful computer would never be able to guess the right combination in a lifetime. 

I’m sandbagging. 

A supercomputer can’t guess a single 256-bit key in the lifetime of the entire universe. It’s not getting cracked.

If you’ve ever heard about encryption failing, it’s almost always because the password was compromised. 

It could also be because of a bug in the code, but AES is a well-established, robust form of encryption. 

You cannot realistically crack 256-bit encryption without the password.

#5 Protecting Archives and Metadata

Here’s what makes WinRAR from plenty of other encryption tools. 

It isn’t just encrypting and protecting raw files that you choose. 

WinRAR also encrypts the archives and metadata.

Metadata is a term that describes all of the file information that isn’t the real data

Imagine you write a paper for school. 

The content of the paper is the real data. Naturally, that’s encrypted. 

But, there is more information than just your paper. 

The file has a timestamp for when it was created and last edited. 

Metadata tells what type of file it is. 

There are a lot of little pieces of information in the metadata. 

With that information, you can actually figure out a lot about a file, even if you can’t read its contents.

With WinRAR, even that metadata is hidden behind encryption. 

If someone steals your encrypted file, they don’t know anything about it. 

They can’t distinguish it from any other file, and here’s why that really matters. 

If they wanted to try to guess the password (which is much easier than cracking the encryption), they’re going to have to put a lot of time and effort into guessing the password. 

If you have a bunch of files, they can’t tell which ones are worth this amount of effort because they have no way of knowing which files hold the juicy stuff they’re after. 

It’s a nice extra layer of security.

As for archives, they’re also important. 

When you archive information, you’re basically creating saved backups of the file. 

You can even save different versions of the file. 

So, in the school paper example, you’ll have the original draft saved along with each edit you made before you finished.

As you might imagine, it’s important to encrypt all of the archives too. 

If you don’t, someone can just get the info they want from the archives instead of the current file. 

Thoroughness matters here, and WinRAR takes care of that.

#6 Individual File and Folder Protection

The last major security feature to think about is that WinRAR lets you choose how to password-protect files and folders. 

So, you can encrypt an entire folder. 

You can then encrypt individual files or folders inside of the first one. 

This allows you to create nested layers of security that just aren’t going to be cracked. 

As long as you use different secure passwords at each layer, you’re creating such powerful security that it’s not a concern.

Before you go too crazy, keep one thing in mind. 

If you ever lose the password for an encrypted file or folder, you can’t decrypt it. 

You essentially lose that data. 

So make sure you don’t apply encryption beyond what you can manage.


  • Theresa McDonough

    Tech entrepreneur and founder of Tech Medic, who has become a prominent advocate for the Right to Repair movement. She has testified before the US Federal Trade Commission and been featured on CBS Sunday Morning, helping influence change within the tech industry.

    View all posts