How to fix Notepad “Access Denied” when editing Hosts file on Windows?

by Linas Kiguolis - -
12

Question

Issue: How to fix Notepad “Access Denied” when editing Hosts file on Windows?

I was recently infected with ransomware, and I read on the instructions online that I need to modify the file in order to regain normal internet access. After I edit it and try to save it, however, it returns an error “Access denied.” Any idea how to bypass that? Thanks.

Solved Answer

Hosts file is a simple text file located inside C:\\Windows\\System32\\drivers\\etc\\ folder on Windows XP, 7, 8, and 10 operating systems. In some cases, it might be hidden, so users might not immediately see it, as they would have to enable the “View hidden items” feature via File Explorer. Essentially, Hosts file was used for Name to IP address resolution, although modern DNS[1] features quickly replaced it.

However, Hosts file still manages to find various uses in modern times, and is especially useful for people from the IT field, such as web developers or networking administrators, as they can develop websites locally or filer various content.

Unfortunately, the Hosts file can also be abused by cybercriminals to prevent users from accessing specific websites (for example, Djvu ransomware[2] is known to use this feature to stop victims from visiting sites that would help them with malware removal or file retrieval process). In such a case, users might want to edit the Hosts file to bypass these malware-set restrictions.

How to fix access denied when editing hosts file

However, many users find themselves in a situation where access is denied when editing hosts file on Windows. The pop-up message is very simple and does not provide any explanations:

Access is denied

OK

Before the emergence of the DNS, hosts files have been used for resolving hosts names. These files have a distinct syntax, which is easily recognizable on every operating system, including Windows, macOS, or Linux.[3] Therefore, the modification of the hosts file should be initiated in a very careful manner to prevent file damage. Due to this, the hosts file is often hidden, and access to it is restricted by the Windows OS itself.

In most of the cases, the “Access is denied” error aborts editing hosts file because the user does not have permission. The hosts file is located in the Windows installation directory, also known as root drive. The file is protected from unauthorized access, so if you’re not an authorized user of the target PC, you may encounter “Access is denied” error on Notepad. 

Luckily, you can fix Access denied when editing hosts file error relatively easily – simply follow the steps provided below.

Fix 1. Launch Notepad as administrator

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If access is denied when editing hosts file, the first thing you should try is to access the file as an administrator:

  1. Open Windows search and type Notepad.
  2. Right-click on Notepad option and select Run as administrator.
  3. After the program launches, select File > Open.
  4. Navigate to the C:\\Windows\\System32\\drivers\\etc folder (make sure to change Text Documents (*.txt) to All Files).
  5. Select hosts file and click Open.Run hosts file as administrator
  6. Edit the hosts file and save it.

Fix 2. Run Notepad using Command Prompt

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  1. Type in cmd into the search box.
  2. Right-click on Command Prompt result and select Run as administrator.
  3. Copy and paste the following commands into the window and press Enter after each:

    cd C:\\Windows\\System32\\drivers\\etc

    notepad hosts

  4. Make the changes to the hosts file, save them and close Command Prompt.Access hosts file via command prompt

Fix 3. Transfer hosts file to another location

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To fix “Access denied” alert while editing hosts file, try to move hosts file to a different location. Then edit it and move back to the initial location:

  1. Navigate to the C:\\Windows\\System32\\drivers\\etc and find your hosts file.
  2. Copy it to a different location, for example Desktop or any folder out of the Windows install directory.Copy hosts file to another location
  3. Then open the hosts file with Notepad and modify it.
  4. Save the changes. Then cut the file and paste it back to the C:\\Windows\\System32\\drivers\\etc directory.

Fix 4. Unmark Read-only option

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Hosts file is set to Read-only by default. It means that the file cannot be edited in a regular way. To get permission to modify it, you should:

  1. Navigate to the C:\\Windows\\System32\\drivers\\etc directory.
  2. Find your hosts file, right-click it, and select Properties.
  3. Open Attributes section and uncheck the Read-only option.
  4. Click Apply and OK to save changes.

Fix 5. Modify security settings of the hosts file 

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  1. Navigate to the C:\\Windows\\System32\\drivers\\etc directory.
  2. Find your hosts file, right-click it, and select Properties.
  3. Open Security tab and click Edit.
  4. Check the list of users that have access to hosts file. If your user name is included in that list, click it and set Permissions to Full control.
  5. If your user name is not included in that list, click the Add button and enter your user name.
  6. Click Check Names and hit OK.Grant full control to hosts file
  7. Now your user name should be added to the list. Click it and mark the Full control open next to your name.
  8. Click Apply and OK to save the changes.

Note: if your system was infected with ransomware or other malware which modified your hosts file, there is a high chance that your system files were affected as well. Due to this, the OS might experience slowdowns, errors, or even crashes, consequently pushing a thought of many to reinstall Windows altogether. To avoid that, we highly advise using Reimage – it can fix virus damage easily and stabilize the system without having to reinstall it.

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About the author

Linas Kiguolis
Linas Kiguolis - IT professional

Linas Kiguolis is a qualified IT expert that loves sharing his excellent knowledge about problems in Windows and Mac operating systems. Linas’ insights often help other team members find quick solutions for visitors of UGetFix site.

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