How to Protect Your Microsoft Word Documents

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If you’re own an organization or you’re a private business owner and you have sensitive information in Microsoft Word, you won’t mind taking extra steps to secure the document. Maybe you want to make sure that only you and some of your staff have access to the information. Perhaps you want to curtail the changes a third party can make on a document. Peradventure you want to give your readers a guarantee that this is the final and original copy of the document. You can perform all these actions and more if you know the right tools to use in Microsoft Word.

The latest version of Microsoft Word features a lot of information for protecting your documents and files. Some of these security options include password, read-only-mode, digital signatures,  restrictions, and many more. Also, you can mark a specific document as final so that any other person can’t make any changes to it.

These security options work in Word 2010, 2013, and 2016. However, we’ll be making use of the Microsoft 365 version of Word for this guide. Meanwhile, read-only and Mark a document as final are two different options in this version, but joined in previous versions.

Besides that, with a document management system you can organize your documents and keep them safe on the internet. You can access these files anytime, anywhere so that they’re always available to you.

How to Protect Your Microsoft Word Documents

#1: Read-Only Mode

The best option to protect your Microsoft Word documents is Read-only. It is a security option that ensures only you can make changes to a document. To view your Microsoft Word security options, open File > Info > Protect Document. From the Protect Document Menu, click on Always Open Read-Only. After that, save the specific document, close it, then reopen again.

Meanwhile, MS Word will display a message that the author will like you to open this as read-only unless you need to modify the document. Select Yes to open the document in read-only mode. However, anyone can select No and open the file in edit mode. Microsoft’s aim in providing this security option is to make it easier for users to open the specific document as read-only to extenuate the chances of anybody making unintended changes.

Click the File menu, select Info > Protect Document > Always Open Read-Only to reverse the read-only restriction.

#2: Password Encryption

You can inscribe a document with a password by clicking on File > Info > Protect Document, then select the Encrypt With Password option. Thereafter, Microsoft Word will request for you to create a password for the document. Meanwhile, ensure to use a strong but memorable password because once forgotten, you can never retrieve or reset the code.

After setting the password, save the document, close it, and reopen again. Microsoft will prompt you or any other user to enter a password before accessing the document.

Meanwhile, if you want to delete the password, select the File Menu > Info > Protect Document, then click Encrypt With Password. A pop-up display will show whether you want to delete the encrypted password, then click ok. Re-save the document, and save. When next you open the particular document, no password will be required from you.

#3: Restrict Format Editing

You can restrict the extent to which your documents can be edited in Microsoft Word. Click File > Info > Protect Document and tap Restrict Editing. Therefore, your document will bring out a Restrict Editing pane on the right-end for editing and formatting restrictions. Here, you can give permission to some people you want to edit your document, choose the parts you want them to edit, and select how they’ll do it.

Tick the box next to “Limit formatting to a selection of styles” to restrict people from moderating or formatting your document. Select settings to display a Formatting Restrictions pop-up pane which brings out all style changes that are set by default. You can leave it like that or change it to the Recommended Minimum, or change it to None.

Meanwhile, you can tick any of the three options under block the ability to switch themes or schemes, Formatting to allow AutoFormat to override formatting restrictions, and block the ability to switch QuickStyle Sets. However, if you’re unsure of which option to choose, leave the three options unchecked.

#4: Restrict Content Editing

Under the Editing Restrictions option, tick the box next to “Allow only this type of editing in the document” to moderate how you want readers to change the content in the document. Select the drop-down menu below chooses between these four options:

  • Tracked Changes: Reverse Track Changes in the document and curtail other forms of editing.
  • Comments: Gives users the option to add comments to your document without making any changes.
  • Filling in forms: Provides created forms for readers to fill without changing or editing any content of the document.
  • No Changes (Read-Only): Puts your document in read-only mode so that users cannot make any changes.

#5: Content Editing Exceptions

If you tick the option for Comments or No Changes (Read-Only), you can create exceptions for specific people to make changes or edit certain parts of your document. Meanwhile, in the exception section, click the box for Everyone and select any parts of the document that you want to be editable.

#6: Enforce Protection

Once you’re done with the setting, check “Yes, Start Enforcing Protection”, then type and confirm a password and click Ok. Save the document, close it, and reopen again to see the grayed out editing controls on the top ribbon. If you approved editing in some parts of the document, select that section, and the controls become accessible again.

To reverse the protection, select the Review tab and click the Restrict Editing icon. Select the Stop Protection button underneath the Restrict Editing window, enter the password, and click Ok. Untick the Formatting and Editing restriction option that appears on the window.

#7: Add Digital Signature

If you want to protect your document with a digital signature, click File > Info > Protect Document and click Add a Digital Signature. This will show your readers that no one else has signed it apart from you, indicating you’re the last person to revise and save it.

However, you’ll need a signing certificate before creating a digital signature. When you first perform this action, a message will pop-up on your MS Word asking if you want to set-up a digital signature. Tick Yes and a Microsoft support page will show to assist you to find a digital ID. Thereafter, click the “Add or remove a digital signature in Office files” link. Beneath the page is a guideline on how to add a digital signature.

Meanwhile, after adding the digital ID, reverse to the Protect Document button and again click Add a Digital Signature. A form will pop-up for you to fill, then confirm the signature and click Ok.

Then, your document is now digitally signed and will be on read-only mode. Microsoft Word explains that the document has been signed and sealed. However, if anyone tampers with the signature, it’ll become invalid. Any reader who opens the document will see a pop-up notice about the signature.

#8: Mark as Final

If you don’t like using the digital signature to secure your document, you can still mark it as final in an unofficial way. Click File > Info > Protect Document and select Mark as Final. Word will bring out a confirmation message saying your document is now saved and marked as final. However, it’s good to know that by marking a document as final, you have disabled editing, typing, and proofing capabilities. Word will bring out a message to any reader saying the document has been finalized.

Meanwhile, when a reader opens the document, a message will show at the top pane of the document showing the file’s status. However, changes can still be made to this document when a reader clicks the Edit Anyway button. After clicking the button, the reader can edit and re-save the document.

Microsoft’s main aim in providing this security option isn’t to prevent anyone from editing the document, but to inform readers that this is the final and recommended version. Any further actions will be recorded if a reader wants to further edit the document. Fortunately, when a certain document is marked as final, then edited again, Word will still show the original owner who locked it as the author, why the person who edited it will be shown as the last person who modified the document.

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Protecting your document is a necessity for anyone who has a sensitive document. If you’re an author, and you don’t want any third party to edit your document, you can easily choose from our security options list the one that’ll best suit you. We’ve out listed a top 8 security options that’ll help protect your Microsoft word documents. Follow up our page to get the best tech reviews and news.

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