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 πŸ™‚

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 ο»Ώpost 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." β€” Megha

Influenced by the startup culture in the Silicon Valley, Jessica loves building things from zero to one and is keen on following news related to the Big Five tech giants and many SaaS startups.

47 thoughts on “Folders Became Shortcuts? How to Open or Recover Shortcut Files

  1. HAI,


    • Sorry to hear that. Based on your description, the folder shortcut issue you are experiencing is probably not caused by virus. Therefore, the above methods are unlikely going to work for you. We’d suggest you take your computer to a local repair shop and let a geek to examine your situation. Good luck!

  2. Thanks for this method. However I found a problem: When I use it, my files become normal but immediately close my flash disk and reopen it,I find that the shortcuts have come back. What might be causing this?

    • Have you done a virus/malware scan? If the shortcuts still keep coming back, try this: backup your files and folders to a safe place first, then reformat your flash disk. After that transfer the files and folders back to the disk.

  3. I used this command code about a week ago on one of my usb drives, however, now it won’t work on another usb drive with only of the folders turn as shortcuts. I have about 12 other folders that work fine. Any suggestions?

  4. My flash drive’s files became shortcut, i transferred the files to another laptop and format my flash drive. When I plugged in the flash drive to my laptop, it turned to shortcut again. The catch is that, even if it is a shortcut, I can still access the folders and its contents. It just opens another window. My worry is that, all flash drives that I am plugging in to my laptop turns into the same problem. What can be the remedy?

    • Looks like the problem has something to do with your PC. It’s recommended that you scan your PC for virus or malware and remove all threats. Then re-plugin your flash drive and see if the issue persists.

  5. My hardisk shows shorcut after i inserted it.I thought it was because of virus after scan any virus is not detected.i even try to format it but after i reinsert other folders it still shows shorcut…pleaseee im working on it for hours..the above method also didnt shows access denied..any suggestions plssssss?

    • If you have tried all the fixes above and still it doesn’t work, contact your hard drive manufacturer support for help. Alternatively, bring your device to a local computer shop for diagnosis.

  6. Hi. I have awe pasport and all my folders suddelny becamenshortcut and when intried opening it i cannot see the files. I closed it again and when I reopened suddenly all files went missing… but i keep on checking the storage data gb it still has my files its just that i cannot see or view it. May inask of i can still recover all the files? Thank u

  7. hi . i would like to ask . the attrib-h-r-s is not working on my window 7 laptop . its said not be founded . can you please help me solve this problem . i hate it everytime i insert my pendrive all the data bcome shortcut

  8. i type this

    attrib -h -r -s /s /d f:*.*

    but its not work.. show out : access denied – F:\system volume information

    what can i do now??

    pls help..

  9. Thanks for the instructions. The files/icons that changed to shortcuts are all in my desktop. I don’t know what (or if) there is an external source (USD card, external hardrive, etc…) that is corrupt. For step 1, what should I type in if the problem is on my C: drive, on my desktop specifically, should I just change the “F” to “C”?

  10. my laptop is infected with .exe. virus .i installed k7 antivirus he removed all my .exe virus and my all photos also gone who was converted to i tried with data recovery software but they recover .exe files ..
    please help me.

  11. Hi,
    The above code is showing Invalid switch. May be cause the problem is in my PC not in any external drives. Can you please help me out, cause all my files, images, pdf have converted into shortcut.

  12. Yeah it works on my usb. But when i inserted the usb back again. It creates another shortcut file. How do I remove this malware on my laptop? Help pls.


  13. Helo my computer Local disk D all folders well shortcuts, i tried step 2, and i replace removable f with d my infected local disk and i get my folders back. THANK YOU VERY MUCH jessica carrell you made my new year of 2018 start wonderful, step 2 works very much. wish you succcess, im very satisfied, your become important to me,i thank you again.

  14. my files in the usb are perfectly fine, just lately im getting 3 extra fake shortcuts to “my music” “my videos” and “my downloads”. it doesn’t open and i cant delete them. the file location is to CMD in windows 32 folder. any solution?

  15. my pc homescreen get empty all the apps documents are showing in files but every time im trying to create shortcut its not showing in windows homescreen. what to do?

  16. Hey there..!
    Recently a thing happened to my external hard drive, my shitty laptop had virus and it also transmitted to my Hard drive as well (thats what i believe) and to clean it i scanned it form my Computer using Avast and after that all of my main folders became shortcuts and when i try to open them they won’t. but when i try to search a sub_folder from search option from inside the Hard drive with . (dot) entension it show everything which i know or remember, but its almost 500Gbs full and i dont remember the sub folders of every main folder except for few.
    i shall be very thank full if anyone can help me out through this.

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