How To Password Protect in Microsoft Excel

Microsoft Excel is the go-to app for creating spreadsheets at work, school or at home. One important element of working with data is security and Excel has us covered. Like Word, Access and PowerPoint, Excel gives us the ability to lock our work down with a password. I think learning how to protect your work is more important than learning formulas, so here’s how to add, remove and manage passwords in Microsoft Excel.

Given how we are rapidly shifting into a data-centric world, Excel is an app we had all better get to grips with. Once you have created the spreadsheet to end all spreadsheets, you’re going to want to protect it. That’s where passwords come in. They allow you to stop people messing with your work or worse, taking credit for it.

I use Office 2016 so the instructions will be based around that. Office 365 and earlier editions of Excel should be similar but the menu syntax may differ slightly.

How to add, remove and manage passwords in Microsoft Excel-2

How to add a password to a workbook in Microsoft Excel

If you want to password protect a workbook in Microsoft Excel, follow these steps.

  1. Select File from the top menu in an open Excel workbook.
  2. Select Protect Workbook and then select an option. Encrypt with Password is the default selection as it protects every element of the spreadsheet.
  3. Select a secure password in the popup box and click OK.
  4. Confirm and click OK.
  5. The Info window should now show the workbook is protected with a password.

Security options within Excel

When you select Protect Workbook, you are presented with a few options.

Mark As Final – Locks down the workbook and prevents further modification.

Encrypt with Password – Stops the workbook being viewed, moved or changed without the password.

Protect current Sheet – Protects the active spreadsheet and controls how users can move, add or change within it.

Protect Workbook Structure – Protects the entire workbook and prevents users making any changes to the entire thing.

Restrict Access – Uses permissions to restrict who can access or view the workbook. Needs Information Rights Management running to work.

Add a Digital Signature – Adds a certificate validating it. Useful for emailing or presenting the workbook to others outside your organization.

How to add, remove and manage passwords in Microsoft Excel-3

How to add a password to a sheet in Microsoft Excel

You can also protect individual worksheets from change or whatever in much the same way you can a workbook. This is useful for raw data pages or presentation pages that you don’t want anyone messing with.

  1. Open the worksheet you want to protect.
  2. Select the Review menu and the Protect Sheet option in the ribbon.
  3. Add the password into the popup window and select the settings in the Allow all users of this worksheet to: section. Any ticked selection will sit outside the password protection so user will be able to perform that task within the protected sheet.

There are a lot of selections to choose from and if you need help, the Office website is a great resource.

How to remove a password in Microsoft Excel

If you no longer need to protect your workbook, you can remove the password protection to allow anyone to access or make changes.

  1. Select File from the top menu in an open Excel workbook.
  2. Select Protect Workbook and select Encrypt with Password again.
  3. Delete the entered password in the popup box that appears and click OK.

You can also remove the password from within the Workbook.

  1. Open the workbook you want to open up.
  2. Select Review and Protect Workbook in the Changes ribbon menu.
  3. Clear the current password and click OK.

What to do if you forget your Excel password?

Passwords are secreted inside Excel and Microsoft understandable won’t say where. That means I don’t know a way of circumventing them without using a third party tool. Even Microsoft themselves say they cannot assist with lost passwords for workbooks.

If this happens to you, you have one option. You can use a freeware Excel unlocker tool that will find the password and unlock the file for you. I have never tried them so cannot attest to how good they are. There are a few out there, most of them free. Google is your friend there.

There are also a couple of VBA scripts that say they can unlock a workbook or worksheet but I have never been able to get them to work. If you’re better at Visual Basic than I obviously am then you may have more success.

So you know of any other way to access an Excel workbook or sheet without using a password and that doesn’t require a third-party tool? Tell us below if you do.

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