How to password protect an Excel spreadsheet?

SecurityAppdrawn Team | Published 17th October 2023
We discuss how to password protect your Microsoft Excel spreadsheet to add a layer of privacy to them...

You may not know this but October 17th is Spreadsheet Day! An annual celebration spearheaded by Debra Dagelish - owner of Contextures Excel Resources - that celebrates both the joys and challenges of working with spreadsheets! According to Debra’s Spreadsheet Day blog, October 17th seemed a fitting day for such a celebration because VisiCalc - the first spreadsheet computer program created for personal computers - was released that very same day back in 1979. Now in its 13th year, Spreadsheet Day falls slap bang in the middle of Cyber Security Month, so we thought for today’s Tech Tip we could combine the two. We thought we would discuss how to password protect your Excel spreadsheet to add a layer of privacy to them.

Disclaimer: It is important to note that if you add password protection to your Excel spreadsheets it does not mean they are watertight in security terms. In order to do that you would need to encrypt them, which is rather complex to do. More on that at a later date! But for now here is how you can make your spreadsheets and the data within more private.

How to password protect an Excel file?

The following instructions detail how to set up password protection for a specific Excel file, in order to prevent others from accessing the data within it:

  • Open up a Microsoft Excel Spreadsheet
  • Got to File > Info.
  • Select ‘Protect Workbook’ and then press ‘Encrypt with Password’.
  • Enter a password and hit ‘OK’.

Warning: Microsoft is unable to recover forgotten passwords, so make sure the password you settle on is one you can remember! In Excel, passwords can be any length and can contain both characters as well as numbers however, they are case-sensitive! Read our previous Tech Tip entries on How do I come up with a really strong password that I can remember? and How can I remember all my passwords? for guidance and why we recommend using a password manager to store them.

  • Confirm the password by typing it into the ‘Reenter Password’ box and select OK.
  • The next time you open the file you will be asked to enter the password to gain access.

Be mindful of when and with whom to share password-protected Excel files. By locking a file with a password, it does not mean it is no longer subject to malicious intent; the risk of passwords falling into the wrong hands still very much exists! 

If you are sharing a password for an Excel File with a colleague at work, you will more than likely have access to a password manager like 1Password or Nordpass. Share the password to your colleague’s vault if you are able to. If that is not an option, share the password verbally. Never share passwords in unencrypted messages!

Be especially wary when distributing password-protected spreadsheets that contain sensitive information such as credit cards or information you don’t want others to know. You really must encrypt your spreadsheet in this scenario!

Appdrawn Team | Updated 17th October 2023

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