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Password Protected Documents

How to Prevent Personal and Professional Loss due to Information Theft

It is unavoidable that sensitive information is stored in files on workstations, laptops, PDAs, USB keys and online systems.  These files can be easily and simply secured.  Likewise, email, regardless of system used, passes through many hands just like a postcard but password protected documents can ensure that your information is secured.  Measures described below can be taken to guard your information against prying eyes and automated systems.

A password protected Microsoft Office or Adobe PDF file can be stored with confidence since it inaccessible without the password.  Similarly, password protected files can be used like a vault to store and transport confidential information that might normally be included in the body of an email.  The protected document will prevent the casual spectator from reading your email attachments while at the same time preventing automated content scanning systems from apprehending the context of your message.

The recipients of the email will download the document to their machine.  Upon opening it they will be confronted with a dialog asking for the password.  If they have the password then the entire file will be opened just like any other document.  If they have not been provided with the password key to the encrypted file they will not be able to view it.

Word Open Password Prompt


When choosing a password, consider using a passphrase that has a few words strung together or made into an acronym.  A passphrase is harder to crack or guess while remaining equally memorable.

Finally, just as a PIN number should not be written on a debit card, do not include the passphrase with the email that contains the protected document.

How to Password Protect a Document

The following are detailed instructions on how to password protect Microsoft Office and PDF documents:
   Word, Excel and PowerPoint 2003
   Word, Excel and PowerPoint 2007
   Word 2008 for the Mac
   Adobe PDF

Word, Excel and PowerPoint 2003

Word 2003 > Tools > Options... > Security

Select Tools menu item > Options…

Word 2003: Set the Open Password

Select the Security Tab and enter the document open password > click OK

Confirm the Open Password you just entered

Reduce the possibility of a type-o by confirming the same password.
Save your document.

Word, Excel and PowerPoint 2007

Word 2007 does have a document protection mechanism however it is geared to the enterprise and relies on either an Active Directory account or a Windows Live ID and so is not suited to the causal user.  Therefore, a password can be applied to a document in the same manner as above in the Word 2003 scenario using Save As… to convert the Word 2007 document back to a Word 2003 file.  The exact mechanism described for Word is also available in the Save As... dialog for Excel and PowerPoint documents.

Save the document in the Word 97-2003 format

Instead of using the Word 2007 format, save your document in the Word 2003 format, and then add a password at that time.

Word 2007: Use the save as dialog > Tools > General Options to set the open password

Word 2007: Set the Open password

It is only necessary to enter the Password to protect opening the document.  Although you can provide the same or a different password that would serve to control modifications to a document it is not required to prevent unwanted viewing of a document on a USB key or attached to an email.

Word 2008 for Mac

Word for Mac: Word menu > Preferences...

Word Menu (Not the File Menu) > Properties… > Security

In Word Preferences click the Security button

Choose the Security button

Word for Mac: enter an open password

Set an open password to make Word 2008 encrypt the document using the password as the key.

Word of Mac: Confirm password

Confirm the document password.

Save your file.

Opening the document in Word 2008 for the Mac the user will be presented with a dialog to enter the required password.  Conveniently, this password protected Word for Mac document can be opened in the Windows Word version as well.

Word for Mac: Enter the open password for the document

The process to add a password to your Microsoft Office documents requires only a few steps and could quickly become routine.  This password remains the key to decrypt the document no matter where it is transmitted.  Protect the password and the document will remain a strongroom to shield confidential information from people and computer systems.

How to Password Protect an Adobe PDF Document

This process requires Adobe Acrobat Pro (the PDF writer).  If you do not have a copy of this commercial software installed contact the help desk for assistance having a document created and secured.

Provided that you have both a PDF document and Acrobat Pro installed proceed with the following steps.

There are two ways to initiate the process of adding an open password to encrypt the PDF document.

PDF: click the Secure button on the toolbar to initiate adding a password

Click the Secure button on the toolbar


PDF: Initiate adding an open password using the Advanced menu

Initiate adding an open password using the Advanced > Security menu item

PDF Security settings in which an open password can be set

Check "Require a password to open the document" and enter a passphrase that will be memorable to the document's audience.

Click OK.

PDF: Veriify the typing of the password

Mitigate the impact of mistakes by retyping the passphrase to confirm that it is what you intended.

PDF: Affirm that you want to set an open password

Affirm that you want to set an open password on this document.

PDF: Be warned that these changes will not be applied to the document until it is saved

Be warned that these changes will not be applied to the document until it is saved.

PDF: Save the document

Save the changes to apply the open password to the document.

It is worth writing this passphrase down in a notebook since it will be difficult and costly to retrieve the contents of the document without the passphrase.


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