When a new device is purchased or a new online account is created it is natural and perhaps even obligatory to protect it with a password, a PIN code or anything at your disposal.
But here is something weird to consider: if we do anything we can to halt hackers from accessing our devices and accounts, why don’t we do the same with documents containing sensitive data, such as a list of our passwords and other credentials?
Encrypting important documents is just as crucial as protecting our online and offline identity – and thankfully it is just as easy as scanning your fingerprint with your phone or storing your passwords with a password manager.
Why the Extra Protection?
Well, the more the merrier, right? Applying password protection on documents deemed important is very practical since even if your main password is compromised and your account is hacked, that extra layer of security the hacker encounters may well discourage them from trying to obtain any further information. With the effort involved in cracking your main password, it is likely that after trying to bypass the lock a few times by using the most common passwords the hacker will decide it isn’t worth decrypting your protected files anymore and move on to hunt down easier prey.
The other aspect of protecting your sensitive data with file encryption is that the channels used to send and receive them (like email and Skype) aren’t perfectly secure. Even if everything in our ability is done to protect ourselves, messages both with or without attachments can still be intercepted – but with an encrypted file attachment the chances of losing sensitive data to unwanted parties is stronger than ever.
How to Encrypt Your Documents
Although any kind of document can be password protected – such as PDFs – for now we are focusing on Microsoft Word and Excel files containing sensitive information such as passwords for online and offline accounts. If you want to apply a password on a Word or Excel 2010/2013 document, select File > Info > Protect Document > Encrypt with Password, then enter a password twice and hit “OK”. In Office 2007 the password window can be opened by hitting the Office button, then selecting Prepare > Encrypt Document followed by entering and confirming the password, while in Word/Excel 2003 the command is Tools > Options > Security, entering the password and hitting “OK”.
Applying password protection in the Mac version of Microsoft Office is a bit different, but it’s still pretty easy to perform. All you have to do is select Word (or Excel, PowerPoint etc.) > Preferences > Security, then fill out the necessary details, confirm the password, and hit “OK”.
Removing the password from the document requires these exact same steps, except to do so you have to delete the password from the password box and save the document.
Storing the Passwords of Encrypted Documents
Once documents are successfully protected with passwords they should be stored somewhere that is anything but a sticky note. This is where password managers enter the picture, providing various services to effectively protect documents containing sensitive information.
The simplest thing to do with password-protected files is to choose a complex yet easy-to-remember password created by a password generator of your choice. Storing these passwords won’t be a problem anymore, since most password management tools have a cloud vault with virtually endless storage for all sorts of credentials, including the so-called secure notes – which includes basically everything that doesn’t fall under the category of a password.
However, the most logical thing to do is to store any document passwords in the manager itself, ideally alongside any account credentials you might have. These programs are designed to appeal to even the least tech-savvy users with convenient features like secure password sharing in a safe environment or the automatic importing of passwords to the right place, no matter from which device the software is accessed. Not to mention password managers store information with military-grade encryption the moment they enter into cloud storage, adding a layer of security to sensitive data on top of the password-protected documents and spreadsheets to ensure they will never get stolen.
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