Securing your Office Documents and PDF Files

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In the past we have talked about security and protecting your documents a lot.  We have also discussed some of the drawbacks and benefits of Microsoft Office's security and encryption protocols so you may think that this is just another useless article but it isnt.  Today I want to talk to you about how you can use Microsoft Office 2016's updated encryption and security algorithms to password protect your PDF files and other documents.

Most of our old articles focus on password protection for editing but this article will help you to protect your documents so well that people can’t even view them without entering the password. With a secure password, the Microsoft Office encryption feature can keep your documents safe.

Our tutorial is for those who use Microsoft Office 2016, although this process should work in earlier versions as well.

The Security of Microsoft’s Password Protection

While many people who know about security protocols may be skeptical about using the default protection options, I will make a concession. Microsoft Office 95 up through 2003 had a very weak password encryption. By Office 2007, however, Microsoft made a lot of efforts to rectify these issues and switched to the Advanced Encryption Standard (AES) that had a 128-bit key encryption protocol. This same system is used in Office 2016 as well, and protects your documents by using highly secure and strong encryption.

There are just two considerations to keep in mind.

  1. The first thing is that you will need to have a password that fully encrypts your document. Even though Office includes a password that you can use to “Restrict Editing,” but anyone could bypass it with some simple hacking. So be sure to use the “Encrypt with Password” option, not the “Restrict Editing” option.
  1. The second consideration is that these encrypted passwords only work for modern document formats (.docx, for example.) The older versions (such as .doc) will use older and outdated encryption methods that can be easily cracked.

Protecting an Office Document with Password Protect

You first need to open the file in Word, Excel, PowerPoint, or Access. Go to “File” then click on “Info” then click on “Protect Document” then click on “Encrypt with Password.”

Note: The “Protect Document” option has a different name in Excel, PowerPoint, and Access, but it’s easily recognizable.

Next, you will need to go ahead and choose the password you want to use to encrypt the document. Make sure that it’s a strong, secure password and one that you’ll remember because if you forget it, you will lose access to your document.

Note: If you want some tips on creating great passwords, feel free to check out this article.

Once you encrypt the document with a password, the Info screen will display the message “A password is required to open this document.” So, the next time you open this document, you’ll be prompted to “Enter password to open file.”

If you want to remove the password protection from your document, go to “File” then click on “Info” then click on “Protect Document” then click on “Encrypt with Password.” Type in a blank password and hit “OK” and Microsoft Office will remove the password from this document.

Protecting a PDF File with a Password

When you export an Office document to a PDF file, you can protect it with an encrypted password. This can be used in Microsoft Word, Excel, and PowerPoint.

Just open the file and go to “File” then click on “Export” then click on “Create PDF/XPS.” On the Save dialog box, click on “Options” and then check the box labeled “Encrypt the document with a password,” located at the bottom, and hit “OK.”

Then you can type in your strong password and hit “OK” again. After that, you can enter a PDF file name and hit “Publish” so that Office can export the document to a PDF file that is password-protected.

Whenever you want to open the PDF file, you will be asked to enter the password. This is the case whether you are using Windows 10’s default browser, Microsoft Edge, or another PDF reader.

Protecting your documents and PDF files with a password is especially useful when storing them on USB drives or on Microsoft OneDrive. For added security, you can use full-disk encryption, such as Device Encryption and BitLocker on Windows PCs, or FileVault on a Mac.