Protecting a Workbook from Opening in Other Programs

by Allen Wyatt
(last updated April 19, 2019)


Paul notes that an Excel workbook opened in Numbers (Apple) or Google Sheets (online) appears to have the password removed and all hidden columns available to be viewed. This is especially true with workbooks created in earlier versions of Excel. Later versions of Excel, beginning with Excel 2013, use advanced encryption techniques which make it more difficult to open protected Excel workbooks. Even so, Paul wonders if there is a way to hide columns or protect workbooks that Numbers and Google Sheets cannot unlock.

It appears that there is no way, Paul. Many programs (including Numbers and Sheets) can open Excel workbooks, and what they actually pay attention to and import varies from program to program. It is entirely possible that your hidden columns could suddenly be visible and simple password protection eliminated.

The only way around this is just that—a workaround. Most people who want to keep some of the data in a worksheet confidential will do one of two things. First, they might generate important information "on the fly" using macros. Most other programs (including Numbers and Sheets) don't do too well with Excel macros, so if the workbook is opened in those programs your macros are not executed and, therefore, the important information not generated.

The other workaround is to bypass Excel for distribution purposes. Instead, output your information to a format such as PDF which is great for viewing and printing while still protecting the underlying formulas and data.

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Author Bio

Allen Wyatt

With more than 50 non-fiction books and numerous magazine articles to his credit, Allen Wyatt is an internationally recognized author. He is president of Sharon Parq Associates, a computer and publishing services company. ...


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What is nine less than 9?

2014-01-20 09:33:32


Similar to Alec's approach, I several projects where, at the end of the reporting cycle, I use a series of macros

The first macro removes all datalinks and formulas then adds the worksheet/workbook locks and performs a SaveAs with a name change (e.g. <file name> & " - Published " & <yyyy-mm-dd>). Finally, based on the call, the file may be moved into a compressed folder.

The second macro does the distribution. Actually there are two "second" macros. One generates emails, the other saves to network or SharePoint folders.

2014-01-20 02:07:43

Shreepad S M Gandhi

Some google search revealed that Excel workbooks saved as 'Excel 2003' format get opened in 'Google Docs' and 'Open Office' programs. Later Microsoft realised this. Excel 2007, 2010, 2013 follow a data encryption philosophy while protecting Excel Workbooks. THIS IS TRUE. I tried to open a Excel 2010 wb in Google Docs. It failed with a message, "This spreadsheet is password protected. Can't be opened."
However Microsoft themselves have a workaround to get rid of Password retrieval failures. However, at least today, it is as difficult as to make a atomic weapon just by knowing 'Uranium is used to make a atomic bomb'. :)

Those interested may visit

It is better to think of alternative strategies while sharing confidential info or any data that you wish to keep unhampered. One preliminary solution is to design / plan / display the output of your calculations in a way such as only the output would be of interest to the recipient and not how it was achieved. After you are done, make a .pdf of the output file before publishing. And if it is still more important, hard printout the output data and photoscan it followed by publishing.

At least the calculations would remain free of getting disclosed as intended.

2014-01-19 15:37:31

Alec Whatmough

Another option is to create a dummy sheet that links to the master. This one will only contain the data that needs to be displayed, so there are no hidden columns, rows or cells.
If you do this, it would be sensible to include a Before_Close macro that selects the dummy sheet and saves the file, so you don't accidentally distribute the file with the wrong sheet displayed.

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