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Recovery Encryption for MS Excel

written by: •edited by: Linda Richter•updated: 2/21/2011

Excel recovery of encryption-protected files is a contingency every user should plan for in their work or home environment. Here are a few suggestions on how to avoid the need to execute a recovery operation, and some options if you need to recover files or passwords.

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    How Does This Work?

    If you have lost your password for your protected Excel workbooks or if you need the recovery of an Excel encryption-protected file, the rescue of that password or file becomes paramount. The alternate option of rebuilding the file is not tenable when large amounts of data or complex formulas are involved.

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    Password Recovery Strategies

    Undoubtedly, the best way to avoid this problem is to develop a password system. Depending on the restrictions in place and the sensitivity of the data being used, you may not need an exceptionally strong password, and a generic one that will be easily remembered will help avoid the problem of a forgotten password.

    Another strategy that has worked is to copy the sheets and then paste them in a new workbook; the new sheets are not password protected and they can be secured again. The deciding factor in this strategy is how protected the sheets are; if all you have elected is the default level of protection, this strategy will work.

    default settings for protecting Excel files 

    Image Credit: screenshot provided by writer

    There is password-breaking software that can be employed against stronger passwords or restrictions. These range in price from free to about $30, which is a small price to pay to avoid hours of additional work and frustration. The software is available online or as a downloadable item. As always, you should be careful in the selection of an online source for software.

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    Excel Recovery: Encryption-Protected Files

    The best choice would probably be to employ an offsite backup program, where files are securely stored on a remote server or drive. If your local files become unusable, they can be recovered from that source. Mozy and others offer unlimited online backup for about $60 a year. Not much more than that would buy an external hard drive for the same purpose.

    If your encrypted workbook has been corrupted and or deleted, a file recovery program is going to be required. There are a number of programs available that will recover lost or corrupted files. Some are for free, but if you have gone to the trouble to encrypt a file, it would be a wise decision not to trust a shareware program due to security concerns.

    Programs for purchase start at about $40, but you will want to ensure that the program will recover all the elements of the workbook. This is another reason to avoid freeware or shareware; some will only recover data, not names, labels or formulas. They use differing strategies from kernel recovery to time-stamped backups as a basis for their recovery process.

    Planning ahead will help remove the specter of having to deal with lost passwords or files. Use of a backup strategy along with an uninterrupted power supply will all but eliminate the causes of corruption not related to a malware attack. Developing and using a formula to create passwords and a safe-keeping place for your passwords will make your Excel files secure and accessible.

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