How To Password Protect in Microsoft Excel

Last updated/edited by Steve Larner on Nov. 6, 2023.

How To Password Protect in Microsoft Excel

Microsoft Excel is the go-to app for creating spreadsheets at work, school, or home. A critical element of working with data is security, and Excel has that covered. Like Word, Access, and PowerPoint, Excel allows you to lock your work down with a password. Understanding how to protect your files is more important than learning formulas, so here’s how to add, remove, and manage passwords in Microsoft Excel.

When working with large Excel files, workbooks, or worksheets/spreadsheets, protecting them can be crucial. That’s where passwords come in. They allow you to stop people from messing with your work, stealing the data, or taking credit for it. Each type (files, workbooks, and worksheets) has a different method to protect the data contained in them.

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

How to Add a Password to an Excel Workbook

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

  1. Click “File” from the top menu in an open Excel workbook.
  2. Select “Protect Workbook” and then choose an option. “Encrypt with Password” is the default selection as it protects every spreadsheet element, not just the data. See below for more choices.
  3. Choose and enter a secure password in the popup box and click “OK.”
  4. In the confirmation box, click “OK” once more.
  5. The “Info” window should now show the workbook is protected with a password.

Your Workbook Protection Options within Excel

When you select “Protect Workbook,” you are presented with a few options, including the “Encrypt with Password” option mentioned in the steps above. Here are all the choices you have for workbook protection. You can see why the default is “Encrypt with Password.” It covers it all.

  • Mark As Final: Locks down the workbook and prevents further modification.
  • Encrypt with Password: Stops the workbook from being viewed, moved, or changed without the password.
  • Protect Current Sheet: Protects the active spreadsheet and controls how users can move, add, or change it.
  • Protect Workbook Structure: Protects the entire workbook and prevents users from making any changes to the whole 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: Creates a certificate validating it. Useful for emailing or presenting the workbook to others outside your organization.

How to Password-Protect an Excel Worksheet/Spreadsheet

Microsoft calls them Excel worksheets, but most people call them spreadsheets. No matter, you can protect individual worksheets from changes in much the same way you can for a workbook. This is useful for raw data, personal, presentation, or reference pages you don’t want anyone messing with. Here’s how to do it.

  1. Open the worksheet you want to protect.
  2. Click the “Review” menu tab followed by the “Protect Sheet” option in the ribbon.
  3. Add a password in the popup window and choose your settings. Ticked selections allow the user to select that option in the protected sheet.

How to Remove a Password in a Microsoft Excel Workbook

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

  1. Select “File” from the top menu of your Excel workbook.
  2. Choose “Protect Workbook” and select “Encrypt with Password.”
  3. Delete the typed password in the popup box and click “OK.”

You can also remove the password from within the workbook.

  1. Open the workbook you want to open up.
  2. Select the “Review” menu tab, then choose “Protect Workbook” in the “Changes” ribbon menu.
  3. You now see an “Unprotect Workbook” window. Enter the current password and click “OK.”
  4. Save the file to apply changes. This will automatically remove workbook protection.

What to do if you forget your Excel password?

Passwords are secretly stored inside Excel, and Microsoft understandably won’t say where. That means there is no straightforward way to remove the unknown password without using a third-party tool. Even Microsoft says they cannot assist customers and clients who lose their passwords for workbooks, worksheets/spreadsheets, or files.

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. There are a few out there, and most are free, but you risk getting malware or other intrusive actions.

There are also VBA scripts available on the web that claim to unlock a workbook or worksheet. If you’re good at using Visual Basic, that option is for you.

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