Prafull from India writes:
I have an MS Word file which is password protected. I have forgot its password. Is there any way to open it?
Prafull, if you’re working with sensitive information on a shared computer, locking your Microsoft Word documents with a password makes sense. It keeps prying eyes from peeking at things they’re not supposed to see. But because computer users have so many passwords to remember already, recalling the one needed to open that Word document can be difficult. According to the Microsoft Word support page, lost passwords cannot be retrieved.
In one way, Microsoft is right. Unlike your email or other online accounts, there is no password retrieval or reset form built into Word. Does this mean that unlocking your protected document is impossible? Definitely not.
Fortunately, several software companies realized that it was common for Microsoft Word users to forget passwords for their protected documents. In response, they developed programs designed to crack your password and open the document. I found a Word document on my computer for which I’d long ago lost the password, and I decided to put one of these programs, Advanced Office Password Recovery, to the test. I’m happy to report that it works, and in some situations, it’s surprisingly fast, too. The program is also compatible with all versions of Microsoft Word.
To get the free trial copy of Advanced Office Password Recovery, open your Internet browser and go to the Elcomsoft website. Click the “Products” button at the top of the page, and then scroll down to “Advanced Office Password Recovery.” Click “Download free trial version” and click “Save” to download the program to your computer. The free trial version worked well for me, but it does have some limitations. For instance, the software’s “Brute-Force” feature tries all possible character combinations (useful if your password is not a word found in the English dictionary). In the trial version, this feature can only crack passwords up to four characters long. You may need to purchase the full version if you’ve used a very long or strange password.
Double-click the program icon in the “Downloads” window to install it on your computer. When installation completes, launch the program. Click the “Open file” button in the top-left corner of the window, and then choose the password-protected Microsoft Word file. If your password is very simple, the program may be able to crack it as soon as you open the file.
If the program can’t instantly recover your password, try the dictionary attack method. I started with the dictionary attack method because that’s the fastest way for Advanced Office Password Recovery to recover most passwords. If you used a combination of letters and numbers, this won’t work. Assuming that you used a real word for your password, click the button next to “Dictionary attack” to begin the decryption process.
The program scans what seems like every word in the dictionary, beginning with three-letter words. This process may slow even fast computers to a crawl, and if your password is several characters long, recovery may take hours. My Word document was locked with a four-letter password, “bear,” which the program recovered within five minutes. I also tried a document locked with a longer password, “birthday,” and recovery took almost one hour.
The dictionary attack method works for most people, but if it doesn’t for you, try the brute-force attack. Click the “Brute-force” tab. Here, enter as much information as you know about the password. For instance, you can choose the minimum and maximum number of characters you think are in the password. You can also set the program to search different character sets, such as lower-case or upper-case letters, spaces, or numbers. If you know some of the password characters, enter them in the “Mask/Mask Character” box. Setting these options may reduce the time it takes for the program to recover your password.
Click “Recovery” and “Brute-Force with Mask” if you know part of the password, or “Brute-Force Attack” if you don’t. Using this method of recovery is almost guaranteed to take a long time, so it’s best to run it when you don’t need to use your computer.
If the free trial of Advanced Office Password Recovery doesn’t work for you, your Word document is probably protected by a very strong password. Buying the full version of the software gives you access to more robust features that will decrypt higher-security passwords. Failing that, you can try one of the other password recovery programs on the market, such as Office Password Unlocker or Word Password Recovery Master.