Helping people with computers... one answer at a time.

I won't tell you how to crack an Excel password, but I will tell you a better way to keep it protected.

How to remove password protection in Excel worksheet? I've forgotten my Excel worksheet password. How do I recover this?

In this excerpt from Answercast #25, I look at the way applications provide security for data and suggest a better way to keep your valuable information safe.

Cracking an Excel password

Unfortunately, these are the types of questions that I don't answer directly. You may very well be totally honest with me. You may very well be totally the person who owns this spreadsheet, who legitimately forgot a password.

On the other hand, you might very well be the person who stole this spreadsheet and is trying to crack into it. So having said that, I don't have a specific answer for you. This isn't a tool set that I have recommendations for, or that I have a lot of interest in providing recommendations for: just because it can be abused so easily.

If you're not worried yet...

That being said, I would suggest that you go ahead and look in Google. If you Google for something like "Excel spreadsheet crack" or "Excel password crack," you will probably find numerous utilities that will attempt to do the job for you. Most of it, I believe is done, by brute force, but there are some other techniques as well.

The real reason I'm taking this question and answering it is not so much to provide you an answer (for which I apologize), but to show most other people just how insecure most kinds of application embedded encryption really is. I don't really want to slam the Excel people too hard, because in fact, what they have is better, much better than it used to be. But it is still fundamentally crackable to someone who has sufficient resources and sufficient motivation.

In reality, the right way to keep a document (like an Excel spreadsheet, or a Word document, or an Open Office document, or pretty much any document that you happen to have) safe from prying eyes is not to use the application itself to encrypt the data. Rather, encrypt it using a third-party program.

  • AxCrypt is a good utility for standalone files.

  • TrueCrypt is a great way to encrypt collections of documents.

  • Even the encryption in utilities like 7-zip are significantly better than they once were.

This is usually more robust than the encryption and protection that is included in applications themselves.

Data encryption tools

They're like padlocks: I look at application passwords and application encryption as padlocks.

They're really, really good at keeping honest people honest. They will put up a barrier that will prevent honest people from attempting to open the document.

However, it's the dishonest people that you really want to worry about... and for those kinds of folks, you probably want to use a more robust, a more dedicated tool that is focused specifically on encryption and security: like as I said, AxCrypt or TrueCrypt.

Article C5448 - June 11, 2012 « »

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Leo Leo A. Notenboom has been playing with computers since he was required to take a programming class in 1976. An 18 year career as a programmer at Microsoft soon followed. After "retiring" in 2001, Leo started Ask Leo! in 2003 as a place for answers to common computer and technical questions. More about Leo.

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2 Comments
Chuck Troupe
June 12, 2012 5:36 PM

Leo, I agree 100% with your answer. However, that person might not have been a wanna-be hacker, nor a person who simply forgot their password. They might have wanted to share the Excel file with someone else WITHOUT giving away their password. I would have recommended making a copy of the file, employing the use of the "Save As" option, and then once the "saved as" file is given its new name, THEN utilize the security function to remove the password. The password will still be intact on the original document. Just thought I would share this process because it is one I used to use quite frequently with various documents in my paralegal service.

Tudor Williams
June 18, 2012 6:49 AM

I genuinely forgot my password for an Excel spreadsheet and tried all sorts of methods to retrieve it. In the end the answer was simple; just open it in a programme such as Open Office which is open source. This did the trick!

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