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How to password protect or encrypt MS Word documents

Password encryption in MS Word

Microsoft word 2002 (XP), 2003 and 2007 enable you to use password encryption. This is standard functionality; no additional file encryption software is needed. This article describes how to use the MS-Word password encryption options of MS-Word 2002 and 2003 in a secure way. If the instructions are followed properly, the result is an encrypted Word document that can only be opened by entering the correct password.

EncOffice helps to create a really secure Word document.
Just click on the "Safe Encrypted" button.

Encrypt button in Word

You can open the encrypted document with a standard Word version
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How to Password Protect or Encrypt MS Word Documents

  1. How to set document security in Word 2002/2003
  2. File security settings in Word 2002/2003
  3. Document encryption is based on "open password"
  4. Set "advanced" property (Crypto Service Providers)
  5. Choose a strong password
  6. The result is a proper encrypted Word document
  7. Need help? Try EncOffice!

How to set document security in Word 2002/2003

There is not something like an "encryption button" in word. On the other hand, encrypting word documents is just a few clicks away.
  • route 1: Tools | Options | Tab Security
  • route 2: File | Save As | Tools | Security Options -- Tab Security
Both result in the next screen:

file encryption options in MS-Word
File encryption options in MS-Word


File security settings in Word 2002/2003

The Security tab shows different file security settings:
  1. Open password
    This password is used for document encryption. This security feature is discussed in the next paragraph.
  2. Modify password
    This password is used for convenience when sharing files. This password does *not* encrypt the document and therefore does not add security. This modify password opens the word document in an editable modus but prevents the original file from being overwritten. The modify password is stored within the Word document. There are tools available that can extract and remove this modify password.
  3. Read-only recommended
    This is a recommendation to the person opening the document. On opening, MS-word asks the user to choose read-only unless the user thinks that changes to the document are necessary. It's just a recommendation, no security.
  4. Protect document password
    This property is like the modify password, but this time it's not possible to make changes to the document while viewing it. This protect document password is extractable and removable as well.

Document encryption is based on "open password"

So the only security password is the open password, the other passwords and read-only setting offer no real security and can be removed by MS-Word password recovery tools.

Set "Advanced" property (Crypto Service Providers)

Behind the password to open field, there is an "advanced" button. Click this button to get the list of available Crypto Service Providers. List of available Crypto Service Providers in Windows
List of available Crypto Service Providers in Windows

A Crypto Service Provider or CSP is a set of cryptographic algorithms with different properties. The default CSP is "Office 97/2000 Compatible". This is a CSP with public known security issues. There are on-line MS-Word password recovery services available that can remove the password of any document within 30 seconds.

Thus, the default CSP provides no security. For strong encryption of Word documents one *must* change to the strongest available CSP, which may differ per Windows installation.

Choose a strong password

If a strong Crypto Service Provider is chosen, there is one other requirement to achieve proper document encryption: choose a strong password.
strong password Read more about strong passwords

The result is a proper encrypted Word document

For strong encryption of MS-Word documents, set the "open password", select a strong Crypto Service Provider, and choose a strong password and click "OK". The result is an encrypted Word document that can only be opened by entering the correct password. There are password crackers that can generate and try every possible password combination, but it will take thousands of years to find the correct password of this document.
Word encryption Is Word encryption really secure? Read all about it!

Need help? Try EncOffice!

This kind of knowledge about MS-Word file security cannot be expected from the average user and many people end up with "secure" Word documents that are virtually not encrypted! To assist you in creating proper secured Word documents EncOffice is recommended.



EncOffice: Easy and Safe Encryption of Word documents
  • Adds a "Safe Encrypted" button to the Word toolbar
  • Helps to choose a strong password
  • Makes encrypted copy of the original document with extension ".enc.doc"
  • You can open the encrypted document with a standard Word version
 Learn More