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An Open Door - Where Security Falls Short with Excel Budgets

June 26, 2018
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Using Excel for financial functions is on the decline, per the 2018 Benchmarking the Accounting and Finance Function report conducted by the Financial Executives Research Foundation.Many companies moving off Excel cite the need for better collaborative tools and the need to be able to handle larger and larger data sets.Another significant area where Excel falls short? Security. While the other issues can cause productivity slowdowns, the lack of security features in Excel can mean data getting into the wrong hands, or worse, lead to lawsuits because of unprotected data.

Not Intended for Security

Excel has a few features that allow a user to limit access to others. Things like file level password protection, workbook level protections and even worksheet level limitations are intended to prevent users other than the document’s creator to perform certain actions, such as adding or deleting cells, rows or columns or even changing data within a sheet.Yet even Microsoft warns that these tools are not intended as security features, warning that you should not assume that the information in your spreadsheet is secure.

Where Excel Falls Short

When it comes to budget and financial planning, there are minimum features that organizations should utilize to protect their sensitive information. These features go far beyond simple file level password protection.Probably the biggest threat to data stored in Excel is the lack of individual user access controls. When an Excel spreadsheet is password protected, it is given a single password for all users. If you have the spreadsheet and the password, you have access to all the data within.Therefore, to have different departments collaborate on an organization’s budget, you have two options: create multiple spreadsheets or expose data to everyone.Creating multiple spreadsheets means dividing the spreadsheet up and then spending valuable time re-combining sheets, importing data, and checking and re-checking to ensure the data and formulas are correct. After all of this, there is still no guarantee that data integrity has been maintained.It isn’t just about your employees seeing data they shouldn’t. A spreadsheet containing all of your company’s financial data, falling into the wrong hands, can be easily compromised even with password protection.Even utilizing the protections Excel does offer, those can be easily defeated. Opening an Excel spreadsheet in other spreadsheet programs removes some of the protections that can be added, like hidden sheets and locked cells and rows.Excel works best, and is most secure, as a single user tool. Once you begin sharing, you open your data and ultimately your organization to significant risks.

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