Whew! You just finished writing an important document in Microsoft Word — and you want to keep it private and secure. What can you do?
Let’s have a look at four ways you can add security to your Word documents. You can choose one of these, or a combination of several, to add the most protection you can from within the Word application.
(Note: At the time of this writing, these suggestions work for the latest Office 365/Microsoft 365 version of Word. Be sure to check what version of Word you are using, as not all options may work.)
1. Make Your Document Read-Only
Read-only mode is just that — a user can only read a document without having the ability to make edits and save those edits.
To make a document read-only, open a document in Word that you want to protect. Click on the File menu, then click on Protect Document. From the Protect Document menu, select the option to Always Open Read-Only.
To test this out, save the document and then reopen it. Word will flash a message, called a dialog box, that the author would like you to open this as read-only. There will appear the Yes, No and Cancel buttons. You, or any user, can click Yes to open the document in read-only mode.
The downside is that anyone can easily click No and simply open the document in Edit mode and make changes. The reasoning behind this option is to make it easier for people to simply open the document as read-only, reducing the possibility of users clicking No and making edits.
2. Encrypt Your Document with a Password
Encrypting your document by forcing users to enter a password to be able to access a document is another great form of protection.
How to Encrypt a Word Document
- To get started on how to encrypt a Word document, first open a document.
- Click on the File menu, then click on Protect Document.
- From the Protect Document menu, select the option to Always Open Read-Only.
- Stay on the same screen and again click on the Protect Document button.
- This time, select the option to Encrypt with Password.
- At the Encrypt Document window, create a password — one that is complex and unique but also memorable — and click OK. Type the password again to confirm, then click OK.
This method has a downside: If you forget the password, Microsoft offers no way to retrieve or reset it. This means that you will not be able to access the document.
Of course, as the document owner, and once you have obtained access to the document, you can always delete the password.
3. Add a Watermark
Adding a watermark, or a transparent background image, to all pages of your Word document can let others know about the status of the document (use Draft or Final) or you can use your name or company name.
Additionally, if the document is marked as read-only, the person accessing the document cannot get rid of the watermark in the document and any information contained in the watermark will stay with the document.
To add a watermark in Word, simply go to the Design tab at the top, and choose Watermark. From there, you can choose Picture or Text.
Unfortunately, even with an identifying text or image on each page, the document is still not secure.
4. Add a Digital Signature
A digital signature gives perhaps the strongest sense of security to the individual document. Any user who opens a Word document with a digital signature will see a message about the digital signature and the document being read-only.
Click on the File menu and click on the Protect Document button. Select the option to Add a Digital Signature.
To create a digital signature, you’ll first need a signing certificate. Of course, you will need to get one through a Microsoft partner. A Microsoft support page pops up to help you find a digital ID. You will need to try the links for the various providers listed in order to obtain a digital ID. Then, click on the link at the webpage to add or remove a digital signature in Office files.
After you have the digital ID, return to the Protect Document button and again click on the option to Add a Digital Signature. At the Sign window, fill out the necessary fields and click the Sign button. You may be asked to confirm the digital signature. Click OK.
Your document is now digitally signed and read-only protected. Anyone who opens the document will see the notice of your digital signature.
When Individual Document Protection in Word Is Not Enough
Despite these measures to protect individual Word documents, additional security is still needed, especially when dealing with highly sensitive materials.
At scale — thousands of pages of these highly sensitive documents handled by dozens or hundreds of people — individual security measures for Word documents simply do not work.
Organizations should consider an enterprise document security solution, such as Caplinked, that has these needs in mind. Digital rights management capabilities provide ultra-secure encryption and complete control over how a document is used, edited, copied or even printed. Caplinked’s FileProtect feature lets companies share documents while retaining the ability to deny access to them — even after a file is downloaded.
In today’s “anytime anywhere” environment, documents are most likely accessed via multiple cloud platforms. Caplinked provides cloud integrations with such platforms as Salesforce, Dropbox, Box, Google Drive and even OneDrive, thereby adding the extra layer of security to Microsoft Word documents without the document owner needing to worry about adding Word’s individual security features.
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Jake Wengroff writes about technology and financial services. A former technology reporter for CBS Radio, Jake covers such topics as security, mobility, e-commerce and IoT.