You never know when one of your files might reach someone it wasn't intended to reach—perhaps through an email forward, a USB stick left behind on a desk, or maybe even an unauthorized user accessing your computer.
Should that happen, password protection is all that stands between your data and the people whom you don't want to see it. It's an extra layer of security you can add to your most sensitive files without too much trouble.
How you go about this will depend on the software you're using to create the file in the first place. Microsoft office packages all have password protection features built in them and we're going to show you how to use it.
Microsoft Word, Excel, and PowerPoint
In Word, Excel, or PowerPoint for Windows,
- Open the file you want to protect with a password,
- then select File and Info. You should see a Protect option at the top of the next list:
- Click this button, choose Encrypt with Password, and type out your password.
Passwords can be up to 15 characters long and are case-sensitive, so double-check what you're typing in. If you forget the password for a document, spreadsheet, or presentation, you won't be able to get back into it—you'll have to start again from scratch.
If you're using Office on macOS, the process is slightly different: Open the Review tab in the ribbon menu at the top, then click the Protect button to enter a password. (The button will be labeled slightly differently depending on which program you're in.
Protecting Other Files
Should your files be on an external hard drive, you can encrypt the entire drive and add a password to guard against unwanted access: In Windows, right-click on the drive in File Explorer and choose Turn on BitLocker; on macOS, go through the Disk Utility.
Third-party applications such as VeraCrypt (free for both Windows and macOS) are also able to encrypt drives for you, adding password protection at the same time. It's a sensible choice if you're putting sensitive data on a portable storage device.
If you need another option, create a password-protected archive containing the file or files that you need to keep safe. 7-Zip is a free tool for Windows that is able to build password-protected archives, for example.