1. Articles
  2. Seven Essential Ways to Protect Your Spreadsheet

Stylized drawing of a bulldog standing guard over a spreadsheet

Too many of us are cautious in our daily lives, but cavalier with the safety and security of our spreadsheets. The internet is awash with Excel disaster stories—chilling tales of spreadsheets containing sensitive information carelessly released into the wild, and of overlooked data errors that end up causing millions of dollars in damage to the companies responsible.

In many cases, these fiascoes could have been prevented by common tools that lie at the fingertips of every Excel user. Whether you want to shield your precious work from prying eyes, or defend it from faulty data, here are seven essential ways to protect your spreadsheet.

1. Set a password for your file

We’ll start by assuming you always store your work on encrypted drives (if not, resolve that issue now and save this article for later). That said, every time you send your spreadsheet elsewhere, you are effectively trusting the recipients to safeguard its privacy.

So, before you loosen your grip on that Excel file, take a few seconds to add a layer of security by protecting it with a password. When you do so, you have two choices: you can require a password to open a file, or require a password to modify the file (effectively making it read-only to those without the password). Of course, you then must take care in properly managing that password. If you lose or forget the password, there’s no way to recover your file. And, if you share the password, you run the risk of it falling into the wrong hands at the other end.

Store the password in your password manager (may we recommend Pleasant Password Server?) so you can safely retrieve it if necessary. When you share the password, be sure that the recipient understands the importance of protecting it.

isometric diagram of mobile phone with password screen and list of password requirements with green security lock

2. Apply sensitivity labels

It is becoming ever more common to collaborate on spreadsheets, often remotely and in real time. Occasionally, you may even be working with someone outside your organization. You’ll want to maintain control over who can view and/or edit your file. And, if the contents are confidential or highly confidential, you’ll wish to identify it as such—and to do it in a more robust way than simply typing “Confidential” at the top.

To apply and use sensitivity labels, users must have valid Microsoft 365 subscriptions. As well, your administrator (or you, if you’re a one-person operation) will need to set up, define, and publish the labels. It’s a bit of a process, but essential if you regularly deal with confidential information. For more details, check out these Microsoft support pages: Learn about sensitivity labels and Get started with sensitivity labels.

graphic of a label with a lock on it with the word Windows in the background

3. Protect cells to prevent changes

As exciting and productive as co-authoring can be, every set of hands that meddles in your spreadsheet increases the risk of incorporating bad data, or of damaging the structures and formulas that you spent hours or days building.

Often, when we share spreadsheets, it is to enable others to directly add their own data. At the same time, though, we don’t want them mucking about in the other areas of your spreadsheet. By locking specific cells and rows in your worksheet, you make sure the rest of it cannot be changed without a password.

graphic of warning sign cell 51 no tresspassing restricted area

4. Hide rows or columns from view

If you’ve ever had to manage large spreadsheets, you likely already understand the importance of being able to hide rows or columns. Doing so lets you focus more easily on the areas of the spreadsheet where you are actively working. You can tuck away rows and columns of data that you don’t need to see, edit, or print, while keeping that data available for any of your formulas.

When co-authoring, you may want to take that one step further by both hiding those cells and protecting them (see #3, above). That way, other users won’t see the hidden data, and they also will also be unable to unhide it if they decide to go snooping.

5. Apply data validation to cells

When entering reams of data manually, it’s very easy to occasionally misplace a decimal point, to add one too many zeroes, or to enter data into the wrong cell entirely. You can help protect your spreadsheet from that kind of blunder (whether committed by you or a colleague) by applying data validation to specific cells. By defining the characteristics and parameters of the data you expect, you ensure that the spreadsheet will not accept data that doesn’t conform.

If the data you’re entering has a limited number of variables (e.g., a list of employee names), you can go one step further by creating a drop-down list. Not only will this reduce errors; it will also speed up the data-entry process.

conceptual diagram of man and woman working on a spreadsheet with magnifying glass

6. Use forms to help prevent errors in data entry

One of the best ways to protect your spreadsheet from sloppy data entry is to perform the chore via an Excel form. This helps reduce errors, eyestrain, and confusion when you’re entering data yourself. And, sharing the form will significantly simplify and streamline data entry for your colleagues—while (again) controlling their interaction with your spreadsheet as a whole.

illustration of ginger bearded man searching for errors in an excel sheet

7. Use Sheetcast to elegantly combine many of these protections

We’ll finish off with a gentle project pitch. By using Sheetcast to build an app from Excel, you can enable your colleagues (or even thousands of your customers) to interact with your data in countless useful ways without ever coming into direct contact with your spreadsheet. It’s a game-changing online tool that promises to disrupt the entire custom software industry. For details (including extensive video demos), visit the Sheetcast website.

cell shaded illustration of three profressionals, one of them with a lightbulb and the word Sheetcast above his head


More Articles:

Ten Memorable Excel Disasters

Pretty much anyone who has ever used Excel has a horror story or two to share—a misplaced decimal, a missing minus sign, a botched cut-and-paste, or some other minor blunder with potentially major consequences.

Why Do People Still Use Spreadsheets?

Microsoft Excel debuted on the Macintosh in 1985 and came to Windows in 1987. Three and a half decades later, its name remains virtually synonymous with the very concept of “spreadsheets.”

Excel Heroes: Gašper Kamenšek

Discover Gašper Kamenšek's journey from college student to Excel MVP. His passion for Excel ignited during Microsoft Office classes, leading to a career shift and a thriving community involvement. Explore his experiences, insights, and adventures, from overcoming toxic work environments to becoming a sought-after speaker. Dive into his love affair with Excel and the ever-evolving landscape of data analysis.

Bulgaria Excel Days 2024

Sheetcast proudly announces their lead sponsorship for Bulgaria Excel Days 2024, demonstrating their dedication to the Excel Community. Join experts Ken Puls, Gašper Kamenšek, Alan Murray, and others for three days of Excel insights, presentations, and masterclasses. Don't miss Alex Martin of Sheetcast, premiering advanced new functions and workflows. Bulgaria Excel Days 2024 runs April 23-25 in Sofia, Bulgaria.

Excel Heroes: Crispo Mwangi

As the only Excel MVP in East, Central, and Southern Africa, Crispo Mwangi stands out as an Excel Influencer, business owner, and host of an MS Excel Forum, making his skills highly sought after. Despite his many commitments, this Kenyan luminary published his latest book, "Excel with PowerQuery and ChatGPT.

Excel plus Sheetcast as Your Ultimate Spreadsheet.com Alternative

Amid Spreadsheet.com's closure, Sheetcast provides a reliable solution, an Excel add-in. Created by a company of 15+ years, Sheetcast offers more than a quick fix. It pioneers innovative data management and application development, providing a secure path for those impacted by Spreadsheet.com's shutdown.

Customers Scramble for Alternatives as Spreadsheet.com Shuts Down

With Spreadsheet.com closing its doors on May 31, users are actively seeking alternatives. Sheetcast, an Excel add-in, stands out as the top solution, providing advanced capabilities and a seamless transition to reconstruct workflows into customized web apps. Sheetcast provides a smooth solution to Spreadsheet.com's shutdown

Advanced Data Visualization Techniques in Web Apps from Excel

If you’ve ever viewed a report or infographic powered by Excel-generated graphics, you recognize that the time-tested spreadsheet application has some powerful tricks up its sleeve in terms of data visualization. Bar charts, pie charts, scatter plots, pivot tables, and more

Excel Heroes: MrExcel Turns 25

Exactly 25 years ago, in 1998, Jelen published his first in a series of weekly Excel help articles at his brand-new website MrExcel.com (hardcore fans can still read that debut article thanks to the Wayback Machine). Soon afterward, he launched the MrExcel Message Board, an online community for Excel enthusiasts like himself.

The Evolution of Efficiency from Excel to Web App

For decades, Microsoft Excel has been a foundational component in the way global businesses collect, analyze, track, and report data. As powerful and flexible as Excel is on its own, however, it can now also serve as a stepping-off point to something even more dynamic and efficient.

Excel Heroes: N-nyiimock Bitanyanmi

N-nyiimock Bitanyanmi is a welcome and familiar face in the online Excel community, where he often goes by the name Justice. Behind his enthusiasm, knowledge, and eagerness to learn, however, lies a surprising fact: until he was almost an adult, he had rarely laid hands on a computer.

Tips to Prevent Data Entry Errors in Excel

With Excel, your formulas, charts, and reports are only as good as the data you enter. So, if you’re responsible for entering a vast data set, it’s important to minimize the risk for error.

How to use forms in Excel … plus something better

Excel forms have improved my life. Now, I know there’s something even better (stick around to the end of this tutorial).

Co-authoring in Excel: Tips and Pitfalls

For years, Excel users have been able to collaborate on shared workbooks. By making it possible for multiple users to work together on a single file, Microsoft unlocked countless ways to boost efficiency and productivity.

It’s Time for Excel to Evolve: From Spreadsheets to Web Apps

The Necessary Evolution from Excel Spreadsheets to Web Apps. Like many of the greatest technologies of our time, spreadsheets can be our salvation or our downfall – and with great power comes great responsibility.

Want to Convert Excel Spreadsheets to Web Apps?

Sheetcast enables you to convert Excel spreadsheets to web apps directly in Microsoft Office, a tool you already use every day. Sheetcast is affordable, easy to learn, and has hundreds of potential uses (limited only by your imagination).

Do You Use Any of These Five Excel Features? If So, Try Sheetcast

Maybe you’re a bit of an Excel guru. Your workmates frequently marvel at your ability to get the most out of the app, employing functionality they never even knew existed.