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Password Protect Microsoft Office 2003 Documents

Microsoft Office 2007Recently I wrote an article explaining how to Password Protect Office 2007 Documents. Because the process is so much different, I felt it necessary to write a separate groovy How-To Article for Password Protecting (and encrypting) Word 2003, Excel 2003, and PowerPoint 2003 documents (yes it’s also possible to add Passwords to Access – however, I’ll write that article shortly). So, just follow the simple step by step process below to quickly Password Protect/Encrypt your Office 2003 Documents (.doc, .xls, .ppt).

Using passwords, you can prevent other people from opening or modifying your Microsoft Office documents, presentations, workbooks and databases. It’s important to note that if done RIGHT, this password protection/encryption process is excellent, which makes it hard to crack. So, let’s get to it.

1. Open the Document you wish to encrypt/password protect  

2. Click Tools, then Click Options

Password protect excel 2003

All shots were taken from Microsoft Word 2003


3. Click Security tab, and then Click Advanced button

Password protect word 2003


4. Scroll down and Click RC4, Microsoft Enhanced RSA, and AES Cryptographic Provider. By default, the key length is 128, and the box Encrypt document properties is checked. Verify this and Click OK

Password protect excel 2003

If you skip this step, you might as well not use a password at all being that standard Password Cracking tools are available which can break the lower level of encryption algorithms

Please note – It’s crucial to use a strong passphrase or password below. 

5. Click in the box Password to open and Type a password. Click OK when finished

Encrypt Office 2003 Documents

Note, depending on the encryption you choose, your password length may be limited to 15-18 characters.  Also, the Modify password IS limited to 15 characters and, not very secure.  It’s better to make a PDF of the document if you’re looking to let someone READ but not edit.  Also, please refer to “BACKGROUND INFO” at the end of this article.


Related Article:  Microsoft Bing Desktop Beta – First Look

6. Renter your Password and Click OK

Encrypt Office 2003 Documents


7. Click File, then Click Save As. (Or, if you have already saved this document, just Click Save, and you’re done.)

Password Protect Excel 2003 .xls


8. Type in a Filename and Click Save

Encrypt Microsoft Office 2003 Documents

Finished! Very Groovy and Secure!!!

Background Info:

  • Password to open: By default, this feature uses LAME encryption so be sure to add a long Passphrase along with Enhanced RSA & AES encryption under the Advanced Option.
  • Password to modify: This feature does not use any encryption method.  It’s designed to collaborate with content reviewers you trust; not to help make your file more secure. It’s a nice way to allow people to VIEW the document but restrict them from making any changes.
  • Both passwords: You can assign both passwords. One to access the file and one to allow specific reviewers permission to modify its content. Just be sure each password is different from the other. 🙂

Comments? Questions?

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25 Responses to Password Protect Microsoft Office 2003 Documents

  1. Adm Support February 17, 2008 at 11:28 pm #

    Your acticle is well done, however, could you mention the backward encryption compatibilty with the previous editions of Office. If someone encypts a document following your article and sends it to a collaborator using an older version of Office (97, 2000) The document will remain encrypted.

  2. MrGroove February 18, 2008 at 9:18 am #

    @ ADM Support
    Thank you for the feedback and Welcome to the Site! I appreciate the tip being that I don’t have an old copy of Office 97 or 2000 installed curretly. Looks like I’ll have to go back and find an old copy to test this out on!

    Thanks again!

  3. Adm Support February 18, 2008 at 8:38 pm #

    @ MrGroove
    You are welcome. The dialogue box should be self-explanatory (see: picture 3 in the article), however it worths mention it to users (my experience). Here is the link to the Microsoft (KB) I agree, it is not fun to read.

    Glad if I could help.

  4. Alex Lee February 22, 2008 at 8:46 pm #

    Is MS Word encryption really secure ?
    Someone claimed that even when good password protection and strong password are used, MS Word encryption can be cracked in 1-2 days. Is that really true ?

  5. MrGroove February 23, 2008 at 9:38 am #

    @ Adm Support
    Excellent! I’ll update the article with the included information. Thank again for the added info!

  6. MrGroove February 23, 2008 at 9:45 am #

    @ Alex Lee
    Hi Alex and Welcome to the site!

    In regards to the strength of encryption for Word and Excel 2003 and 2007, if you follow my instructions above regarding the encryption “type” and you use a strong password, the encryption is very strong. Please remember, the key is the password. If you use a dictionary word like happy or december or automobile… the password will be broken in a matter of minutes. If you use a password like: ! [email protected] @ppl3S (special case, spaces between words, numbers, letters) it will be VERY difficult for a NON-NSA type person to crack the encryption and open your document. Trust me, I’ve tried on a 16 way server and after 2 weeks, I aborted the brute force attack. The key is [strong]Encryption Type (RSA/AES), Password Complexity and Password Length.[/strong]

  7. James August 28, 2008 at 10:10 am #

    I just setup a password on a word 2003 document. it is 18 characters long. I used the default encryption ( i did not change anything). The password does not take… i created another test document using the same password, and it does not take. If i only use a 15 character password, it is good to go. After testing… the password field is concatinated to 15 characters, but microsoft does not warn you if you use a longer password. Just thought your readers should be warned.

  8. MrGroove August 28, 2008 at 6:32 pm #

    @James – Thanks for the feedback! I’ve updated the document to note the exception.

    BTW – Please remember, if you are using the default encryption the password can be cracked very easily using several off-the-shelf products. You really should consider using the encryption algorithm I recommend in the Article.

    Thanks again!

  9. anon August 7, 2009 at 2:50 am #

    Nice, tidy simple guide – spot on !

  10. happymark December 15, 2009 at 1:57 am #

    A) Open document > Select edit menu > choose select all > then choose copy from edit menu.
    Open new document > edit menu> paste.
    Select tools menu> choose options> window opens with options. Select form different tabs the edit

    tab> make sure that al desired boxes are selected.
    Select save tab>choose and mark box>ask about properties
    accept or Apply options and close.
    Save new document different name. When saving it should ask if you want to save properties>

    choose not save. Maybe it asks if you want to modify properties> choose yes> select box archive

    amongst read only, hidden or archive.
    If this does not work.

    B)There are many 3rd party utilities which claim to recover forgotten word password:
    The program that I recommend is the Word Password Recovery 5.0 It recovers/removes the “Password

    to Open” and “Password to Edit” for you to view and edit the document freely.

  11. Zandra January 28, 2010 at 1:29 pm #

    HOw do I create a password for a folder? I’m using windows2003. Thanks!

    • MrGroove February 2, 2010 at 5:23 pm #

      A password for a folder? What exactly are you trying to do?

  12. nick December 21, 2010 at 8:03 am #

    can i password protect a folder?

    Its on a shared network drive so i dont want anyone deleting things inside there.


    office 2003

    • MrGroove December 21, 2010 at 11:22 am #

      Nope. Not with Office 2003, 2007 or 2010. There really is no way to password protect a folder using Office. You can however talk to your IT administrator and setup NTFS permissions to give everyone only read access (and you read/write) so they cannot delete anything in the folder on the share drive. This is actually VERY easy to do.

  13. katwmn6 July 5, 2011 at 5:06 am #

    Thanks for the article! Question: in step 4, when I go to select the type of Encryption, it says as follows:

    RC4, Microsoft Enchanced RSA and AES Cryptographic Provider (Prototype)

    Do you know why, (it’s a genuine copy of Office 2003) and if it’s still okay to use?

    Many thanks!

  14. Michael July 11, 2011 at 9:48 am #

    And what makes the RSA/AES option a better choice thatn the MS Strong Crypto Provider?

    • MrGroove July 11, 2011 at 10:20 am #

      If I remember correctly (going way back here)…. the MS Crypto provider was backwards compatible with even earlier versions of Office and it was easily broken using simple tools like Passware. Best option is the AES/RSA with a long pass phrase.

      • Michael July 18, 2011 at 9:18 am #

        Thanks. That’s just what I needed to know.

  15. Girish S August 17, 2011 at 5:09 am #

    I’m not finding the “tools” button in my office excel sheet. So i’m not able to try the tools-options-security…. to password protect my excel file. I only have “Home, Insert, Page layout, Formulas, Data, Review, View” buttons at the top.
    Please help.

  16. Bajarang January 30, 2012 at 7:34 am #

    How to protect my MDB databse which have VBA code also in its.
    i want a protect at this is two level.
    Level -1 :- for Users (Not editable mode for database object)
    Level – 2 :- for Developer (May fixed Issue if runtime occured i.e editable mode for dtatabse objects)
    pls help me ASAP …….

  17. Stephanie February 8, 2012 at 1:31 pm #

    I’m doing a project for one of my computer classes in college where I have to email my professor a document as an attachment from Microsoft Word 2010. Basically he wants the document to be password protected which I know how to do. BUT, he’s looking for me to identify the algorithm and key strength that the program uses to encrypt documents. How do I find this information out?

    I’ve actually tried asking the liveChat people on Microsoft and they didn’t know–they directed me to a phone number. I haven’t called yet because I wanted to exhaust all my internet options before even remotely trying to call.

    Basically, how do I find the key strength and algorithm that Microsoft Word 2010 uses for my encrypted document. I was going to try the steps above, but there is no “tools” on my microsoft 2010.

    So what should I do or where should I look???

  18. Amanda March 15, 2012 at 8:37 am #

    This is a great step-by-step guide for those who are not so ‘groovy’ with word.

    Thanks for your awesome How-to! 🙂

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