Password-protect a Word document

Confidential Word documents shouldn’t fall into unauthorised hands. But even a file that is protected via Windows user rights can be copied and distributed. If you encrypt a Word file and protect it with a password, its content can no longer be viewed, not even with file viewers that claim to bypass Word's password protection. Find out how you can create an encrypted document, open, and decrypt it.

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Quick guide: Encrypt Word documents

All locally installed Word versions (i.e. not the web version in the browser) enable locking of Word documents. Once encrypted, the Word file can only be opened with a password.

  1. In Word versions 2019 to 2010 and Microsoft 365, set a password for encryption via ‘File’ > ‘Protect document’ > ‘Encrypt with password’.
  2. In Word versions 2007 to 2003 set the password in the ‘Save As’ dialogue by clicking ‘Tools’ > ‘Security Options’.

You will need to save the document to complete the encryption process.

How to add a password to a Word document: step-by-step guide

In the following instructions, we’ll show you how to encrypt files in different Word versions step by step.

Word 2019, 2016, 2013, 2010 and Word in Microsoft 365

As of Office 2010, Microsoft employs a ribbon interface instead of simple pull-down menus. Follow the steps below to password-protect your Word document in newer versions of Word.

Step 1: Click on ‘File’ in the upper left corner and then on ‘Protect Document’. If the document is already encrypted or there is a write-protection or other restriction on it, this area will be highlighted in yellow.

Step 2: A drop-down menu will appear. Click ‘Encrypt with Password’.

Step 3: Enter a password to encrypt the Word document and confirm with ‘OK’. Store your password in a safe place, because if you forget it, you won’t be able to decrypt the file later down the line. To ensure that there are no typing errors, you’ll be prompted to enter your password a second time.

Step 4: The ‘Protect Document’ area in the file menu will now be highlighted in yellow. Save and close the document. Next time you open the document, you’ll be asked to enter the password.

Microsoft offers comparable encryption for Excel. Learn how to password protect Excel spreadsheets.

Tip

Microsoft 365, formerly known as ‘Microsoft Office 365’, is a server-based office solution with Word, Excel, and PowerPoint for private users and small businesses. The server-based option ensures that you’ll always be using the latest version automatically and don't need to worry about updates.

Word 2007 and 2003

In the older Office versions, you can encrypt Word documents as follows:

Step 1: Choose ‘File’ > ‘Save As’ from the menu.

Step 2: Select a folder and a file name. Before you save the file, click ‘Tools’ from the upper right corner and select ‘Security Options...’ from the menu.

Step 3: Enter a password in the ‘File encryption options for this document’ field and confirm with ‘OK’. To check whether you have entered the password correctly, you will then be prompted to repeat the entry.

Open an encrypted Word file

When you open an encrypted document in Word or Explorer, a dialogue box appears automatically prompting you to enter the password. The document opens only if you enter the password correctly.

Many other Word processing programs, e.g. WordPad, installed by default in Windows 10, cannot open encrypted documents. The free office programs LibreOffice and Apache OpenOffice treat encrypted documents the same way as Word and ask for a password when opening them.

If you try to view a password protected Word document using a simple file viewer, no data is displayed. What appears is an indication of it being an encrypted Word document.

Note

A growing number of users are opting for secure passwords that are often more difficult to remember. Password managers can be particularly useful here. However, some of these tools can only be used in the browser and not in Word.

If a Word document cannot be opened even after entering the correct password, the file may be damaged. There are several ways to recover a Word document.

ZIP files can also be encrypted so that other tools cannot access the contents.

Remove Word file encryption

You can decrypt a protected Word document after you’ve opened it in just a few steps. The individual steps vary depending on your version of Word.

Word 2019, 2016, 2013, 2010 and Word in Microsoft 365

Want to remove theencryption in the Word versions 2010 onwards and save the unencrypted document, proceed as follows:

Step 1: Open the ‘File’ menu and then click the ‘Protect Document’ option. This area is highlighted in yellow for encrypted documents.

Step 2: Click the ‘Encrypt with password’ option in the drop-down menu.

Step 3: Delete the hidden password and confirm with ‘OK’.

Step 4: Save and close the document.

The document will be decrypted and you’ll no longer need to enter a password to open it.

Word 2007 and 2003

Decrypting a document in older Office versions that still use the classic user interface, is done as follows:

Step 1: Choose ‘File’ > ‘Save As’.

Step 2: Now, specify a folder and a file name. Click ‘Tools’ and then ‘Security Options’.

Step 3: Delete the password and confirm with ‘OK’.

Step 4: Click ‘Save’ to save the document unencrypted.


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