Do you work with password protection in Excel spreadsheets? If so, I have good news and bad news.

BAD NEWS: the passwords are easy to break 
GOOD NEWS: the passwords are easy to break

If you’re sanitizing data, repairing and modifying spreadsheets, it means tracing old data and formulae to get inside the minds of previous developers.

There is no Password Protection

What if your efforts dead-end at a password-protected sheet and no one currently has the password?

You could be prevented from seeing important formulae, locating the source for dropdown lists, un-hiding helper columns, etc. Fortunately, for our purposes Mr. Google offers an abundance of free methods for breaking the password so you can get your work done. Here is one solution at This solution doesn’t figure out the password, it gives the user a new, functioning password.

What’s another lesson in all of this? Don’t rely on Excel’s worksheet protection for sensitive data.  With my clients, I use protection only to prevent user accidents. If there is anything sensitive, especially if you have to share the information with others, save and share in .pdf format.


With the release of Excel 2013 password protection is much stronger, and the code linked to The Office Experts won’t work for worksheets that are saved in Excel 2013.
For greater explanation, check out TheSpreadsheetGuru’s blogpost Understanding Excel’s Password Security Methodology. They explain why it was easy to break passwords in the past, why Excel 2013 is stronger, and precautions to take if you’re collaborating on a password-protected sheet and not everyone has Excel 2013.