Protecting your zombie romance whodunnit novel draft with a super strong password was a great idea. That is until you cannot remember the password to unlock the Microsoft Office document. And now there is no way in.
Luckily, several really useful programs remove Microsoft Office password protection. Here are five of the best.
Microsoft Office and Password Protection
Before we begin, let’s get one thing straight. You should only use these tools to remove passwords from your own documents. When you use one of these tools on any other documents, there is a chance you’re committing a crime. We want nothing to do with that.
It is also useful to understand just what the password recovery program is doing. Microsoft Office password recovery programs fall into two categories: tools that remove and tools that recover. Both are useful but serve slightly different purposes. Furthermore, understand what the password does.
Microsoft Office from 2007 onwards uses 128-bit AES encryption. Cracking a 128-bit AES key is an extremely time-consuming process. With a sufficiently strong password, the file will remain secure, even using known AES-128 breaks.
Finally, we consider password strength in relation to the Microsoft Office version:
- Microsoft Office 95: Weak encryption converts the password to a 16-bit key; instant decryption available
- Office 97 and 2000: Encryption key length raises to 40-bits; instant decryption available
- Office XP and 2003: Key length remains at 40-bits, but Microsoft adds a custom encryption algorithm protection option; fast decryption available depending on the custom algorithm
- Office 2007: AES is available, with the addition of the SHA-1 hashing function; password recovery is difficult
- Office 2013: Still uses AES-128, but hash algorithm updates to SHA-2 class, using SHA-512 as default; password recovery is extremely difficult
We see that using even an extremely long password while using Microsoft Office 95 has minimal effect as the encryption algorithm is vulnerable. Conversely, Office 2013 offers more protection to files with weaker passwords due to stronger encryption and hashing algorithms.
The 5 Best Microsoft Office Password Recovery Tools
If you have a file from an old Microsoft Office version, there is an extremely good chance of removing or extracting the password. Unfortunately, those seeking to crack passwords on newer Microsoft Office versions are almost certainly out of luck.
1. Free Word and Excel Password Recovery Wizard
Supports: Microsoft Word and Excel 95-2003
The Free Word and Excel Password Recovery Wizard is one of the first options to consider. The program attempts to unlock files using either a dictionary or brute force attack (as do most of the other tools on this list). Attempting to put a modern Microsoft Office file results in an error.
There are options to configure both attack types. The dictionary attack uses different case sizes with the option of a custom word list, while the brute force attack uses variable password length as well as the option of a custom character set.
Supports: Microsoft Word and Excel 95, 97, 2000, XP, 2003, 2007, claims also to support 2010, 2013
The Word Password Recovery Master is another useful free option to consider for password removal and recovery. It supports a wide range of Microsoft Office versions, making it useful in solving a wide number of issues.
The claims of support, however, aren’t completely truthful. During my tests, the program couldn’t recover or remove basic passwords created using Office 2010, so I have further doubts about its ability to remove encryption on later versions.
However, Microsoft Office 2003 passwords were easy to remove. The program also notes that it does not support custom encryption types, only default Microsoft Office encryption.
Supports: All Microsoft Office versions
Elcomsoft’s Advanced Office Password Recovery (AOPR) is our first professional tool. As such, it comes with a price tag. In this case, you get what you pay for.
At $49, the Home Edition is the cheapest option. However, it doesn’t allow GPU use for cracking or removing passwords and relies solely on CPU power (and the Home Edition is limited to a single CPU, too).
GPUs are more efficient password crackers so if you’re serious about removing that password; I would suggest upgrading to the $99 Standard Edition.
Aside from price, AOPR has a wide range of features, allowing for custom dictionaries, custom character sets, and variable password lengths, as well as running short pre-brute force dictionary attacks just in case. Also, if you know anything about the password you can “mask” information to streamline the process.
AOPR is guaranteed to work on older Microsoft Office versions. The program also successfully unlocked several test documents I ran, though the passwords weren’t particularly difficult. Given enough time, AOPR seems like a great choice (albeit costly if you are only unlocking one file).
Supports: Microsoft Word and Excel 97, 2000, 2003
CrackIt! is a slightly older password cracker, developed originally for Windows 95. However, it still works with Windows 10 and better still, requires no installation, running as a simple executable. It is basic, only offering a brute force attack, with limited dictionaries too. But it will work for those basic passwords, on older Microsoft Word and Excel files.
Supports: All Microsoft Office versions
SmartKey’s Office Password Recovery program is another worthwhile paid-for tool if you’re in a password protection pickle. Like Elcomsoft’s AOPR, if given enough time this program will crack an AES-128 key (so long as the key isn’t that difficult). Furthermore, the user interface is one of the nicest amongst the password cracking tools and is certainly one of the easiest to use.
The Standard version will set you back $24.95 but doesn’t allow GPU acceleration. With that in mind, I’d pay the $34.95 for the Professional version that allows up to 32 CPUs and eight GPUs.
These Password Recovery Tools Aren’t Flawless
Sure, there are more Microsoft Office document password cracking programs out there. The majority offer the same functionality as the above programs; other paid options cost more but offer the same range of features.
You must understand that you will not crack every password, especially those using the latest Microsoft Office encryption, especially in combination with a sufficiently strong password. Throw in a multi-word passphrase and you’re looking at thousands of hours to decrypt a single file, if it is even possible (hint: it isn’t).