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Password types in Excel

This article is addressed to those users who are unfamiliar with Excel security model and would like to know more about Excel passwords.

Five different types of passwords could be found in Excel documents. 

Excel password types are:

1. Password to open the document

To prevent unauthorized users from opening a document at all, you can assign this type of password.

To assign a password to your document choose Save as -> Tools-> General Options on the File menu. The following screenshot appears:

Excel password recovery article - password to open screen

If a user tries to open protected document the following dialog box appears:

Excel password recovery article - password prompt screen

Users who don't know the password cannot open your document.

2. Password to modify

To assign a password to your document choose Save as -> Tools-> General Options on the File menu. The following screenshot appears:

Excel password recovery article - password to modify screen

To allow others to open the document but to allow only authorized users to make changes to it, you can assign a password for modifying the document. If you try to open a document protected with such type of password the following dialog box appears:

Excel password recovery article - password prompt screen

You have to enter the password and open your document or open your document in read-only mode. By-the-way, you can open the document in read-only mode, remove password to modify it and perform "Save As" menu command. Then delete original Excel document and rename saved document: it is now unprotected.

Vba modules

Excel document can include VBA modules (VBA stands for Visual Basic for Applications) with macros in it. VBA modules can be protected by password too. To assign VBA password click right mouse button on the project and choose Protection tab on the Properties menu (see the following screenshots).

Excel password recovery article - VBA password screen1

Excel password recovery article - VBA password screen2

Besides this there are several other password types:

WorkSheet password

To assign a password to the current worksheet choose  Tools -> Protection->Protect Sheet (see the following screenshot)

Excel password recovery article - WorkSheet password

Workbook password

To assign a password  choose  Tools -> Protection -> Protect Workbook (see the following screenshot)

Excel password recovery article - Wordbook password screen1

or Tools -> Protection -> Protect and share Workbook

Excel password recovery article - Wordbook password screen2

Curious fact: if Workbook password is assigned to Excel document but you didn't assign password to open (it's empty), password to open is assigned automatically as VelvetSweatshop. You will not be asked about this password while you open the file, but your document is password-protected with this password. That's why you can't assign VelvetSweatshop to your document as a password to open. If you try to do this, you will not get an error message, but your document will be opened without any prompt for a password.

How to recover Excel Passwords

Read the following articles to know more about "fake password", brute force attack, smart force attack, dictionary search attack, express recovery, guaranteed recovery. Read the article about all available password recovery methods here.

Password to open

There are several cases:

1) All Excel versions through Excel 95 have weak and unreliable protection. Password could be recovered immediately. Document must contain enough text inside (at least one page) to allow password recovery (because it is based on statistical methods). If there is not enough text in your document Excel Password may fail to recover the password.

2) Excel 97 and Excel 2000 has improved password protection.

There are two ways to recover Excel  password in this case. The first one is to search all of the password variants (brute force or smart force attack) or dictionary search. This method has good results in case of short password, but you can't recover long and complex password using this way.
In case of complex and long password it is better to use Express password recovery. Express password recovery is a unique recovery method that guarantees successful password recovery in a minute regardless of password length. Note that Express Recovery is applicable for passwords to open only. Some Excel documents (about 3% of all documents) are impossible to recover using Express Recovery. In this case Guaranteed Recovery should be used instead.

Note on Office XP, 2003
You can use Express Recovery to recover Office XP documents if only they were saved in default (Office 97/2000 compatible) encryption mode. If a document has been saved in advanced encryption mode, Express Recovery will not work.

3) Excel 2002 (XP), 2003 has opportunity to choose encryption mode - weak protection as in old versions, standard (used by default) as in Excel 97/2000 and several advanced encryption modes. Express recovery doesn't work with advanced encryption modes. File password protected in the advanced mode can not be opened in the previous Excel versions.

Special note. French versions of Excel (any  version) have weak protection (the same as Excel 95). This is because of French law that does not allow encryption.

Attention! If you protect your document with several passwords and one of them is password to open first you have to recover password to open and then recover other passwords.

4) Passwords to open are extremely hard to break in Excel 2007/2010. You can find more information about password recovery for Excel 2007 and Excel 2010 here.


Password to modify, Sheet and Wordbook passwords

All these types of passwords could be recovered instantly.

There are two ways to recover these password types:

a) to construct  a "fake" password (something like q!x#$M) which is accepted as valid one.

Note. It's absolutely impossible to recover your original password, because Excel save not real password but 16-bit hash. As a result a lot of different passwords have the same hash and there is no way to find which one was initially assigned to the document.

b) Since a lot of different passwords could assigned to a document (sometimes Excel document can contain dozens of passwords) constructing "fake" passwords could be inconvenient. It is possible to modify the document to delete all passwords (or to change all of them to known one).

VBA module passwords

Note. Excel Password is not able to recover (crack) VBA passwords. There is a special program to crack VBA passwords - VBA Password. If you have two passwords in your document - VBA password and any type of Excel password and forgot both of them you need two modules to recover passwords - VBA Password module and Excel Password module.

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