- 1 How to Protect an Excel Worksheet/Workbook With a Password
- 2 How to Remove a Password From an Excel Worksheet/Workbook
- 3 How to Lock a Sheet in Excel Using a Password
- 4 How to Unlock an Excel Sheet Removing a Password
- 5 How to Lock or Unlock Specific Cells in an Excel Worksheet/Workbook
- 6 How to Encrypt an Excel File Using Encrypting File System (EFS)
- 7 Extra: How to Use Windows BitLocker Encryption for System Disks or Other Drives
- 8 Extra: How to Password-Protect Files in Windows
One of the features that Excel offers is password protection, which can help users to protect their sensitive or confidential information from unauthorized access or modification. However, not all password protection options in Excel are equally secure, and some of them can be easily bypassed or cracked by hackers or malicious software. In this blog post, we will explore the different types of password protection in Excel, how they work, and how secure they are.
There are three main types of password protection in Excel:
- Excel Workbook password: This option allows users to set a password for opening or modifying the entire workbook file. Users will then be prompted to enter and confirm a password of their choice. Once a workbook password is set, anyone who tries to open or modify the workbook file will need to enter the correct password first.
- Excel Worksheet password: This option allows users to set a password for protecting specific worksheets within a workbook from being viewed, edited or deleted. To set a worksheet password, users need to right-click on the worksheet tab and select Protect Sheet. Users will then be prompted to enter and confirm a password of their choice, and select the actions that they want to allow or disallow on the protected worksheet. Once a worksheet password is set, anyone who tries to view, edit or delete the protected worksheet will need to enter the correct password first.
- Excel Cell password: This option allows users to set a password for locking specific cells or ranges of cells within a worksheet from being edited or formatted. To set a cell password, users need to select the cells or ranges of cells that they want to lock. Then, users need to protect the entire worksheet by following the steps for setting a worksheet password. Once a cell password is set, anyone who tries to edit or format the locked cells will need to enter the correct password first.
While these password protection options can provide some level of security for Excel files, they are not foolproof and can be easily broken by various methods. Some of the common ways that hackers or malicious software can bypass or crack Excel passwords are:
- Brute force attack: This method involves trying every possible combination of characters until the correct password is found. This can take a long time depending on the length and complexity of the password, but it is guaranteed to work eventually.
- Dictionary attack: This method involves trying a list of common or likely passwords based on words, phrases or patterns that users may use. This can be faster than brute force attack if the password is simple or predictable, but it may not work if the password is random or obscure.
- Password recovery software: This method involves using specialized software tools that can exploit vulnerabilities in Excel's encryption algorithm or file format to recover or remove passwords from Excel files. This can be very fast and effective, but it may require some technical skills or knowledge.
Therefore, users who want to protect their Excel files from unauthorized access or modification should not rely solely on password protection options in Excel, but also use other security measures such as:
- Choosing strong and unique passwords that are long, complex and random, and changing them regularly.
- Storing passwords securely in encrypted vaults or managers, and not writing them down or sharing them with anyone.
- Encrypting Excel files with third-party software or services that use stronger encryption methods than Excel's built-in ones.
- Backing up Excel files regularly and keeping them in safe locations such as cloud storage or external drives.
- Scanning Excel files for viruses or malware before opening or downloading them from unknown sources.
Password protection in Excel can be useful for preventing accidental or casual access or modification of Excel files, but it is not enough for ensuring high-level security of sensitive or confidential information. Users should be aware of the limitations and risks of using password protection in Excel, and take additional precautions to safeguard their data from potential threats.
How to Protect an Excel Worksheet/Workbook With a Password
The following steps show how to protect an Excel workbook which is the whole Excel file with all its contents.
- Click “File” on the top left
- Switch to “Info” and click “Protect Workbook” – ” “Encrypt with Password”
- In the pop-up “Encrypt Document”, enter your password and click “OK”
A good password to protect your Excel workbook should have at least 8 characters, and include a mix of uppercase and lowercase letters, numbers, and symbols. A good password should not be based on personal information, common words, or sequential patterns. A good password should be changed regularly, and not reused for different accounts.
- Reenter the password an click “OK”
- Your workbook in Excel is now encrypted and password protected
How to Remove a Password From an Excel Worksheet/Workbook
The following steps show how to unprotect an Excel workbook which is the whole Excel file with all its contents.
- When you open a password-protected Excel file, you will have to unlock the workbook first
- Then click “File” to open the options menu
- Select “Info” and click “Protect Workbook” – “Encrypt with Password”
- Remove the existing Password and click “OK”
- Your Excel workbook is now unprotected and can be used without a password
How to Lock a Sheet in Excel Using a Password
Use the following step for locking an Excel spreadsheet / a single Excel worksheet inside an Excel Workbook).
- Right-click the tab for your Excel sheet which you want to assign a password for
- Enter a password, select “Protect worksheet and content of locked cells” and what you want the password to apply for
When you protect a sheet in Excel, you have several options to customize the level of access that users have. Two of these options are “Select locked cells” and “Select unlocked cells”. Here's what they mean:
Select locked cells: If this option is checked, users can select (click on) locked cells, but they can't edit them unless they have the password to unprotect the sheet. If this option is unchecked, users can't even select locked cells.
Select unlocked cells: If this option is checked, users can select and edit unlocked cells, even if the sheet is protected. If this option is unchecked, users can't select or edit unlocked cells.
So, the difference between these options is about what users can select and potentially edit:
- If you only check “Select locked cells”, users can select locked cells but can't edit them, and they can't select or edit unlocked cells.
- If you only check “Select unlocked cells”, users can't select or edit locked cells, but they can select and edit unlocked cells.
- If you check both options, users can select both locked and unlocked cells, but they can only edit unlocked cells.
- If you uncheck both options, users can't select or edit any cells on the sheet.
- Confirm the password and click “OK” to secure the Excel sheet
How to Unlock an Excel Sheet Removing a Password
Use the following steps to unprotect Excel sheets (single spreadsheet inside of an Excel Workbook).
- Right-click the tab of the Excel sheet and select “Unprotect Sheet”
- Enter the password and click “OK” to unprotect the Excel sheet
How to Lock or Unlock Specific Cells in an Excel Worksheet/Workbook
This feature allows you to lock specific cells in a worksheet. When a cell is locked, it cannot be edited. However, cell locking only takes effect when the worksheet is protected. This means you can lock cells in a worksheet, but if the worksheet is not protected, users can still edit those cells.
When you use a worksheet password in combination with cell locking, you're adding an extra layer of protection. You can lock certain cells that contain important data or formulas that you don't want to be changed, and then protect the entire worksheet with a password. This way, even if someone knows the password and can make changes to the worksheet, they still cannot edit the locked cells.
- Select the cell(s) you want to lock and click “Format” in the “Home”-Ribbon
- Click “Format Cells”
- Switch to “Protection” and select or unselect “Locked”
How to Encrypt an Excel File Using Encrypting File System (EFS)
When you choose to encrypt an Excel file with EFS as shown in our other guide, Windows will generate a unique encryption key for that file. This key is used to convert the data in the file into a format that can't be understood without the key. This process is transparent to you as a user – you don't need to manually encrypt or decrypt the file.
When you, as the owner of the file, try to access it, Windows will automatically use your encryption key to decrypt the file and allow you to view and edit it as normal. This decryption process is also transparent – you don't need to manually decrypt the file.
If someone else tries to access the file – for example, if they gain unauthorized access to your computer or if they steal your hard drive – they won't be able to read the file. Without your unique encryption key, the data in the file will appear as gibberish.
If you want to share the file with someone else, you'll need to decrypt it first, or the recipient will need to have an encryption certificate that matches the one used to encrypt the file. If the recipient doesn't have the appropriate certificate, they won't be able to read the file.
Extra: How to Use Windows BitLocker Encryption for System Disks or Other Drives
BitLocker is a proprietary encryption program for Windows that prevents unauthorized access to your drives and can protect against malware. When you perform BitLocker encryption on a drive, it's transformed into random numbers and letters until you enter your BitLocker password or a USB key, which decrypts the drive. Check out our other guide to learn how to use BitLocker encryption.
Extra: How to Password-Protect Files in Windows
If you want to encrypt and password-protect Excel files, you can use methods other than the built-in Excel password protection or in combination to add another level of security. Check out our other guide how to protect folders of Excel files or other documents with passwords.