Removing a password in Excel – here’s how it’s done

There are several ways to password protect Microsoft Excel files. You can encrypt the whole file with a password or protect individual worksheets. In this article we will show you how to remove a password from Excel.

Normally, you need the corresponding password to remove a password from an Excel file. However, if you have misplaced the password and cannot find it in your password manager, things are a little trickier. It’s nearly impossible to remove the password from an encrypted Excel file. However, if the password protection only concerns individual worksheets, your chances of opening the file are a little better. With a few tricks you can remove the Excel protection of individual sheets – but you won’t be able to view a forgotten password this way.

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Remove a password from an Excel file – using a known password

If you know the password, the following steps allow you to remove the password protection and encryption for the whole Excel file. After you’ve removed the password from the Excel file, you can reopen it without a password.

Step 1: Open the password protected file. You will need to enter the password.

Step 2: Then choose “File” > “Info” > “Protect Workbook” > “Encrypt with Password” from the menu.

Step 3: In the dialog window, delete the password and click “OK”. Afterwards, the prompt to enter a password to open a workbook will disappear.

Step 4: Once you save the Excel workbook, password protection is removed. The file can now be opened again without a password.

Quick guide: Remove the password of an Excel file

  1. Open the file and enter the password.
  2. Go to “File” > “Info” > “Protect workbook” > “Encrypt with password”.
  3. Remove the password.
  4. Save the file.
Tip

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Remove excel password protection of a worksheet – with a known password

It takes just a few clicks to unprotect a single Excel worksheet and allow anyone to edit it again.

Step 1: From the “Review” menu, select the “Unprotect Sheet” option.

Step 2: If the worksheet was password protected, you must now enter the password.

Result: If you’ve entered the correct password, the Excel sheet is now unprotected. Any user can now edit the worksheet again as they wish.

Quick guide: Unprotect sheets in Excel (with password)

  1. Click on “Unprotect sheets” via “Review”.
  2. Enter the password.

If you have lost the password of your Excel file

Removing an Excel password only works if you know the password. But what should you do when you no longer have the password of an encrypted Excel file? Bad news: The password protection of an encrypted Excel file cannot be cracked. Actually, this is good news, because the encryption is in place to protect the contained information from unauthorized access. If it were possible to remove the protection, it would be worthless, and anyone would be able to open a private file.

As of Excel 2007, so-called AES encryption methods have been used to encrypt Excel files, using different key lengths and possibly other extensions depending on the Office version. The AES-256 algorithm used in Office 2016 is even approved for US documents of the highest classification level. So, you can assume that even a crafty hacker won't be able to help you here. The protection is comparable to that of encrypted ZIP files.

Tip

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Your only option is to try to guess or recover the password. Theoretically, there would still be the possibility of cracking the password with a so-called brute force attack, i.e., by automatically trying all combinations. However, this only works if a particularly short and trivial password such as “1234” was chosen. If, on the other hand, you set a secure password, all attempts of this nature will be futile.

When you’ve lost the password to encrypt an Excel worksheet

Things aren’t quite as hopeless if you want to unprotect a single Excel worksheet but no longer know the password. There is actually a trick for that. However, it involves file manipulation, and there’s no guarantee it will work with all current and future versions of Excel. Of course, we assume that you will try this only if you are authorized to do so.

Step 1: Before performing any of the steps below, make a copy of the relevant Excel file. Perform the following steps within the copied version, because if you make a mistake while modifying the file, you still have the unmodified original available and can start over.

Step 2: Open the copy of the file with 7-Zip. The 7-Zip program comes pre-installed in Windows 10, so all you need to do is right-click on the file and select “Open” from the “7-Zip” menu. If 7-Zip is not installed on your system, download it online – it’s free.

Fact

Excel files in .xlsx format are actually compressed files in ZIP format. Their contents can be viewed by opening them with any conventional unzipping program. We use the program 7-Zip as an example here.

Step 3: Open the “xl” folder inside 7-Zip.

 

Step 4: Now open the “worksheets” folder.

Step 5: Now you can view one or more files: sheet1.xml, sheet2.xml, etc. These files correspond to the individual worksheets of your Excel file. Let’s assume your protected worksheet corresponds to the sheet1.xml file; if you have more than one worksheet, you may need to try to determine which Excel sheet you need to remove password protection from.

Now, edit the file using a text editor. The easiest way to do this is to right-click the file in 7-Zip and then click on “Edit”. Alternatively, you can select it and press the [F4] key.

Step 6: The file is now open in the Windows editor. As you can see, XML files are not exactly reader-friendly, they are usually not intended for human eyes. Make sure that text wrap is enabled in the text editor (“Format” > “text wrap”) so that the text does not scroll out sideways.

Now, look for the string “ in the text and select all text up to the closing “/>”:

This XML entry represents the sheet protection.

Step 7: Delete the entire selected entry from “<sheetProtection” to the next “/>”. Be careful not to delete anything else so as not to damage the structure of the XML file.

Step 8: Close the text editor. Confirm to save changes. Since you have opened the file in 7-Zip, 7-Zip will now ask: “The file sheet1.xml has been changed. Should it be updated in the archive?” Confirm for the changes to be applied to the Excel file and close 7-Zip.

Result: You can now open the modified copy of the file in Excel and will find that the sheet protection has been removed. The worksheet can now be edited again.

By the way: While this method lets you remove the Excel sheet protection, you cannot find out which password was previously used. As shown in the text editor, the password is stored internally using hash values only.

Quick guide: Unprotect sheets in Excel (without password)

  1. Make a copy of the Excel file and perform the following steps in your copied file.
  2. Open the file copy with 7-Zip.
  3. Go to the folder “xl”.
  4. Open the subfolder “worksheets”.
  5. Right-click on the file “sheet1.xml” (or the file for the worksheet in question) > “Edit” to launch the editor.
  6. Find the XML entry “sheetProtection”.
  7. Delete this XML entry.
  8. Save, close, and archive the XML file and close 7-Zip.
Note

Manipulating the contents of Office files is only recommended when there is no alternative and should be performed with extreme caution. Always make backup copies! Even if the change was successful at first glance, it is advisable not to continue using the Excel file in question, but to set it up again if necessary. Also remember that you are liable for any consequential damage!


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