Folders Became Shortcuts? How to Open or Recover Shortcut Files

Last updated: Mar. 26, 2018

young man worry on a PC

Oh, no….so you plugged your USB flash drive (or camera memory card) into a computer and tried to access the files inside, only to find all the folders became shortcuts leaving all your data inaccessible? 

You might wonder: what's wrong? Is there a quick way to open the shortcut files? Or at least recover the precious data?

Well, very likely -- your storage device has been infected with weird viruses or malware.

But don't worry! You can fix the problem in a few steps, and restore your hidden or lost data.

That's what we are going to show you in this article. Just follow the step-by-step guide, and you should be all set.

Let's dive in...​

The culprit: virus (or malware)

More precisely, it can be a virus, trojan or worm, e.g. the notorious ones like BUOUFO, QWERT, AUTORUN, etc..

Chances are the virus has sneaked into either your PC or the storage device, or both. Note that the device we are talking about here can be a USB pen drive, a microSD card, an external drive, etc.

What the virus often does is hiding your files and folders, by turning them into shortcuts - usually a few kilobytes (KBs) in size, while the actual file size us several megabytes (MBs) or gigabytes (GBs).

In rare cases, your items could be deleted by the virus and thus disappear, unfortunately.

But most of the time, it's often a quick fix.

Keep reading for more...

What you may need:

  • Your Windows PC;
  • The infected removable storage media, i.e. USB drive, memory card, etc.;
  • An antivirus program and/or a malware removal software (see more below);
  • A file retrieval program (see the best data recovery software);
  • Time and patience, as always 🙂

How to Fix File Shortcuts: A Quick Guide

Note: It is highly recommended that you DO NOT jump to the second or third step, without trying the first one. 

Step 1: check if your files are hidden

First, open the Command Prompt app. For Windows 10 and Windows 8.1, search "cmd" in task bar and click the best match (see the screenshot). For Windows XP/Vista/7, click Start > Run, type cmd and click OK.

Next, copy this command attrib -h -r -s /s /d f:*.* (control + C), right click and select to paste it. Important: here we assume your external drive shows as F: under My Computer or This PC. Don't forget to replace "f" if the drive letter is different.

Now, press "Enter" key and check if the files and folders in your disk are now visible.

If yes, congratulations. If not, go to Step 2.

Step 2: scan and remove malicious threats

  1. Launch the security software for a scan. We recommend Bitdefender Antivirus Plus because it's one of the most powerful antivirus solutions out there. A great alternative is McAfee 2018 AntiVirus (see on Amazon).
  2. Open the program and run a thorough scan of your PC hard drive, as well as your external disk.
  3. We also suggest you use Malwarebytes to check if your PC has malware issues.
  4. After the scan, remove any malicious threats your security software would find. Usually, those malware or viruses won't be missed out.

Now check the items on your device, see if the shortcut is now gone?

If yes, that's great. Otherwise, it's possible that the virus/malware has deleted your files. Go to Step 3.

Step 3: recover data and format the disk drive

First, Get Stellar Phoenix Windows Data Recovery and install the program on your PC. Connect your USB drive (or memory card, external HDD, etc.), and then launch the Stellar Recovery program to scan the disk drive your device represents.

Once the scan is complete, navigate through the found list to see if your lost files are there. If yes, recover them as per instructions.

Next, re-format your storage device on your PC (use Windows internal "quick format" or "complete format" option), this Howtogeek tutorial has more. If you're using a memory card, you can also use a third-party formatting tool called SD Memory Card Formatted 5.0. This way, your device will be wiped out, and the virus and shortcut issue are fixed as well.

But wait, it's not over yet! Now you can re-use the data recovery software above to re-scan your device just in case more files can be found and recovered.

Pro tips:

Normal disk re-formatting won't erase the data saved in a storage device right away, learn the reasons why from this post we wrote.

Also, a third-party file recovery program like the one we recommend above is safe to use as it performs read-only operations thus won't write additional data to your disk.

That wraps up this article. Hope the step-step-step guide has helped you remove the annoying file hidden issue, or at least you have restored your precious data.

Let us know if you have any questions during the process. Leave a comment below. We'd be happy to help you out.

Thanks to Megha for submitting this issue.

"All the files and folders became shortcuts in my 500GB external hard drive after it was connected to my Windows 7 computer and I attempted to view some items. This happened just all of a sudden. It's really annoying to see that nearly 200GB data now became inaccessible with just about 1-2KB size. How could this happen? Please help me out. I am willing to destroy the drive as long as the data can be recovered." — Megha

Jessica Carrell

Jessica is the content manager at AnySoftwareTools. She is a lover of photography, technology, teaching, and learning. Recently she's keen on following news related to tech giants and SaaS startups in bay area.

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