Protecting a Word or Excel Document Using Built-in Encryption

The steps, below, can be used to encrypt documents containing sensitive information, such as Social Security Numbers and personal health and financial information. Encryption is essential when transmitting sensitive information over the Internet or through e-mail to locations outside our immediate organization, including our campuses.  The steps are the same whether encrypting Word or Excel. For your convenience, we give instructions and screen shots for both.

Sharing the Password.

The kind of encryption described below requires assigning a password that must be known by all who will read the encrypted document. Unlike a logon password, this password has to be shared. Here’s the most important rule:

DO NOT USE YOUR Pods or BGM LAN PASSWORD

Then, you must consider how you will share it.

  1. Verbally is Best. If possible, communicate the password verbally, such as over the phone or in person in a closed meeting.
  1. By E-mail Only If Necessary. If you must use e-mail to transmit the password, take these precautions:
    1. Put the password in a separate e-mail message, separated in time if possible. Never send the password in the same e-mail with the encrypted file.
    2. Be certain of the e-mail addresses you send the password to. If you made a mistake when sending the encrypted file, the information will remain protected by the encryption. But if you then make the same mistake and send the password to the wrong parties, you are responsible for causing a breach of information. If it contains personal information, it could require us to notify all affected persons, as governed by State law.
    3. Do not use the word “password” in the subject of the e-mail or the body of the message. Hackers have successfully searched e-mail databases for the word “password.”
    4. Do not state what document the password goes with. The message can be as simple as “Use this for the document we are working on: XXXXXXX.”

Encrypting a Word Document

1. Open the Word document you would like to encrypt.

Open Word Document

2. Click on the “Tools” menu and select “Options” to open the Options Screen

Click on Tools menu and select Options

3. Under the Options Screen, locate and select the “Security” tab

Select Security tab

4. Click on the “Advanced” button to choose an encryption scheme. This is an important step since the default option is not the most secure. We recommend that you choose the “RC4, Microsoft Strong Cryptographic Provider”, set the key length to 128 and check the “Encrypt document properties” option.

Click on Advanced button and choose encryption scheme

Please be aware that the above option is not compatible with versions of office older then Microsoft Office 2002 and may not be compatible with other products such as WordPerfect.

5. Click “OK” to return to the options window. At this point, we simply need to set the password.

click OK

Please enter a strong password in the “Password to open:” box. A strong password is one that includes letters, numbers and special characters and is at least 8 characters long. However, please be sure that this is a password that you will remember. If this password is lost, the document will become unusable.

6. The document is now encrypted with password protection. Please be sure you save the file so that the changes take effect.

Encrypting an Excel Document

1. Open the Excel document

Open Excel Document

2. Click on the “Tools” menu and select “Options” to open the Options Screen

Click on Tools menu and select Options

3. Under the Options Screen, locate and select the “Security” tab

Select the Security tab

4. Click on the “Advanced” button to choose an encryption scheme. This is an important step since the default option is not the most secure. We recommend that you choose the “RC4, Microsoft Strong Cryptographic Provider”, set the key length to 128 and check the “Encrypt document properties” option.

Click on Advanced button and choose encryption scheme

Please be aware that the above option is not compatible with versions of office older then Microsoft Office 2002 and may not be compatible with other products such as Lotus or Open Office.

5. Click “OK” to return to the options window. At this point, we simply need to set the password

Click OK

Please enter a strong password in the “Password to open:” box. A strong password is one that includes letters, numbers and special characters and is at least 8 characters long. However, please be sure that this is a password that you will remember. If this password is lost, the document will become unusable.

6. The document is now encrypted with password protection. Please be sure you save the file so that the changes take effect.

Last Updated: 8/13/14