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How to Protect Your Microsoft Word Documents

You can protect your Word documents from prying eyes and itchy fingers.

You’ve created a critical Word document, one that you wish to keep private or that you want to share with only certain people. But perhaps you don’t want others to be able to edit the document, and you certainly don’t want it to fall into the wrong hands. How can you protect your document?

Word offers a few options:

  • You can finalize the document to alert people not to edit it.
  • You can encrypt the document with a password so only people who know the password can access it.
  • You can restrict the type of editing others can perform on the document.
  • You can add a digital signature to the document to ensure that no one can tamper with it.
  • And you can employ more than one of these tactics to truly secure your document.

Let’s look at the many ways you can protect your Word documents.

As always, I’m using Word 2016 here, but the options for protecting a document are the same for the prior couple of versions of Word.

Start by opening an existing Word document that you want to protect. Click on the File menu and then click on the button to Protect Document. From the Protect Document menu, select the first option to Mark as Final.

A message tells you: “This document will be marked as final and then saved.” Click OK.

Another message pops up saying:

“This document has been marked as final to indicate that editing is complete and that this is the final version of the document. When a document is marked as final, the status property is set to ‘Final’ and typing, editing commands, and proofing marks are turned off. You can recognize that a document is marked as final when the Mark as Final icon displays in the status bar.”

The goal of this action is to dissuade anyone from modifying the document by telling readers that it’s completed, and no more editing changes should be made.

When someone opens the document, a message appears at the top: “MARKED AS FINAL.  An author has marked this document as final to discourage editing.” An “Edit Anyway” button also appears. If someone clicks on that button, that person can still edit and re-save the document. That person could then also mark the document as final if he or she chooses. But then the document would show you as the author and that person as the one who last modified it. (You can see the author and other information on a document by clicking on the File menu.)

So the purpose is not to prevent someone from editing the document but to alert readers that it’s in its final version and that you should appear as the author and the person who last modified it.

Alternately, try this:

  • click on the File menu and click Protect Document.
  • Select the second option to Encrypt Document.
  • At the Encrypt document window, type a password and click OK.
  • At the Confirm Password window, retype the password and click OK.
  • Save and close the document.
  • Try to reopen it.
  • This time, you’re prompted to enter the password. If you don’t type the correct one or you click Cancel, the document won’t open.

So this is a secure option to ensure that only people who know the password can even view your document. Just be sure not to forget the password yourself as there is no way to recover it or unlock the document without it, at least not within Word or Windows.

To remove the password, click on the File menu, click on Protect Document, and again select Encrypt Document. Delete the dots that hide your password and click OK. Your password is deleted. Resave the document before you close it.

Here’s another trick.

  • Click on the File menu and click Protect Document.
  • Select the third option to Restrict Editing. Your document reappears, this time with a pane on the right for setting formatting and editing restrictions. This is the option to choose if you want people to be able to open your document but limit or restrict the changes they can make. This option also password-protects your file so only those who know the password can modify the document.
  • Check the box to Limit formatting to a selection of styles if you want to prevent people from changing the formatting of your document through styles.
  • Click on the link for Settings underneath.
  • In the Formatting Restrictions window, all styles are allowed by default. You can keep that setting, change it to the Recommended Minimum, or change it to None.
  • If you’re not sure, choose the option for Recommended Minimum. You can also check any of the three options under Formatting to allow the first one or block the other two.
  • Click OK to close the window.

  • Check the box to Allow only this type of editing in the document.
  • Click on the dropdown menu underneath. You can now choose from among four options. Tracked changes turns on Track Changes for any reader of your document and restricts any other type of editing. Comments allows readers to insert comments in your document but make no other changes. Filling in forms lets readers fill in forms that you’ve created but not change those forms. And No changes puts your document in read-only mode so no changes can be made.
  • Select the appropriate option.

If you check the fourth option for No changes, you can create exceptions for certain user accounts to edit your document.

  • In the Exceptions section, check the box for Everyone and select any parts of the document that you want anyone to be able to edit.
  • Click on the option for Yes, Start Enforcing Protection.
  • You’re prompted to create a password. Type and then retype the password and click OK.
  • Save, close, and then reopen the document. You’ll see now that the editing controls on the Ribbon are grayed out.
  • Click in any section of the document that you allowed for editing, and the controls are now available.

To turn off the protection, click on the Stop Protection button at the bottom of the right pane. Type the password and click OK. You can now edit the document and permanently turn off the editing restrictions if you wish.

Finally, you can add an invisible digital signature to your document. Such a signature tells readers of your document that you and no one else signed its contents, assuring people that you were the last person to revise your document. Your document becomes read-only after the digital signature is implemented. To create a digital signature, you need a signing certificate to your identity.

  • Click on the File menu and click Protect Document. Select the fourth option to Add a Digital Signature.
  • The first time you do this in Windows, Word tells you: “To sign a Microsoft Office document you need a digital signature, would you like to get one from a Microsoft partner now?” Click Yes.
  • You’re taken to a Microsoft support page to help you find a digital ID. Try the links for the different providers to get a digital ID.
  • Then click on the link at the webpage to Add or remove a digital signature in Office files.
  • Scroll down the page to learn how to add a digital signature and how it secures a document or other file.
  • After you’ve obtained the digital ID, return to the Protect Document button and again click on the option to Add a Digital Signature.
  • At the Sign window, fill out the necessary fields and click the Sign button.
  • You may be asked to confirm the digital signature. Click OK.

Your document is now digital signed and made read-only. Anyone who opens the document will receive notice of your digital signature.

Whitney,Lance. 2018, February, 8. “How to Protect Your Microsoft Word Documents” Windows Secrets, Office

Posted in: MS Office Tips and Tricks

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