How to Password Protect Your Excel Workbook or File

Microsoft Excel

Although cloud-based solutions and budget apps are trying to steal Excel’s thunder, it still remains the king of accounting, charting and data organization. With millions of people worldwide using MS Excel, many forget to utilize its formidable security feature: adding passwords and making it read-only.

This will ensure that the only people who can tamper with your spreadsheet are those you give express permission to do so, locking customization of your sheet behind a secure encrypted password. Here’s how to do it.

Why Lock an Excel Workbook

Protecting an Excel workbook with a password can work in two ways:

  • Prevent unauthorized access to the workbook
  • Restrict users from modifying the contents of the spreadsheet (makes it read only)

In both instances, you can protect an Excel workbook with a password to make it read only. This means users will be able to open the workbook and view the data but won’t be able to make any changes to the spreadsheet. This is vitally important if you are running a small to medium-sized business and want to ensure the integrity of your financial data.

How to Save an Excel Workbook as Read Only

Here’s a step-by-step guide on how to lock an Excel spreadsheet or workbook with a password and make it read only.

  1. Open the workbook you want to safeguard. Go to “File -> Save As” option in the menu.
Save As
  1. Next, click “Browse” to bring up the “Save As” dialogue box.
  2. In the “Save as type” dropdown, make sure you’re using a proprietary Excel format (Excel Workbook, Excel 97-2003 Workbook, Excel Add-in etc.), otherwise the password protection feature in the next step will be greyed out.
Password Protect Excel Workbook Save As Type
  1. At the bottom of the box, click “Tools” option just next to the “Save” button. Click on “Tools” and a drop-down menu will open. Select and click “General options” in the drop-down menu.
Save Type
  1. Enter your desired password in the “Password to modify” box as illustrated below. If you have a password manager already installed, you can use it to generate a strong password for you and store it in the vault. Otherwise, you can use this guide on how to generate hard-to-crack passwords. With the password secured, check the box for “Read-Only recommended,” then click “OK.”
General Options
  1. You’ll be prompted to confirm the password. Enter the same password, then click OK to complete the process. Lastly, click the “Save” button. Now, every time a user attempts to open the workbook, a pop-up notification box will appear with the following message.
  1. Clicking the “Read-Only” button will open the document but in Read-Only mode. Only those you share the “password to modify” with will be able to make changes to the workbook.

How to Unprotect an Excel Workbook

What if you want to lift the read-only restriction and grant everyone editing privileges? Removing the Read-Only feature is an easy process and can be done with just a click of a button. All you’ll need to do is go through the same process again and uncheck the box that makes your Excel workbook Read-Only.

  1. Click on “File -> Save As” and in the dialogue box that shows up, select “General Options” from the “Tools” dropdown menu next to the “Save” button.
  2. Uncheck the “Read-Only recommended” box. Remove the password that you had set and click “Save” to apply the new changes.

The next time you open the workbook, it will not open in Read-Only mode, nor will it display the Read-Only restriction box.

Frequently Asked Questions

What if I forgot my Excel workbook password?

The best workaround to this is to copy all the data from the original workbook into a new one, then save the new workbook with a password that you actually remember. Note that this will only work at the “read-only” password level, not if you’ve set a password for the entire workbook.

How secure is my Excel workbook password?

Since MS Office 2016, 256-bit AES protection has been integrated, upgrading from the old 128-bit encryption, which makes modern Excel comparable to dedicated password managers.

Are there other ways to hide workbook data?

Say you want someone having read-only access to a workbook, but you only want them to see certain data in it; the best way to moderate this is by right-clicking the rows or columns you want to hide, then click “Hide.” To reveal the columns again, highlight the columns either side of the hidden one, right-click at the top, then click “Unhide.”

Take Advantage of Excel File Encryption

Setting a password in Excel to protect any workbook is easy and self-explanatory. Nevertheless, it can give a great deal of control over who can access and/or edit a workbook. This can go a long way in maintaining data integrity.

Now that you know how to make your Excel workbook Read-Only, the next things you can learn are using the Concatenate function and how to split cells in Excel. We also have a couple of Word tutorials for you – learn how to display one page at a time and how to add offline videos to Word documents.

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