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Q: Excel as an analysis/reporting tool that cannot be copied or saved ( Answered 3 out of 5 stars,   0 Comments )
Subject: Excel as an analysis/reporting tool that cannot be copied or saved
Category: Computers > Security
Asked by: cginsd-ga
List Price: $10.00
Posted: 10 May 2006 16:25 PDT
Expires: 09 Jun 2006 16:25 PDT
Question ID: 727447
I would like to distribute an automatically created excel workbook to
a small (15 or so) users internationally. The spreadsheet contains
data that is pulled from a central database and contains functionality
to chart the results of scenaria that vary based on the users input.
What I want to prevent is that they then use this spreasdsheet as a
datasource; so the question: can excel be protected in a way to
prevent users copying data, saving a local copy or in any other way
cloning the spreadsheet itself. Some of the users may be fairly
sophisticated, but non are hard-core hackers.

The answer I am looking for is either 'no, ultimately there are easy
ways to defeat whatever protection you build in' or 'yes, the
following protection is available and adequate' or even, 'not with
excel, but with this similar tool it can be done'. As I will contract
out anything I decide to use, I do not need details beyond a couple of
'buzz words' that I can pick up a contractor with.
Subject: Re: Excel as an analysis/reporting tool that cannot be copied or saved
Answered By: sublime1-ga on 10 May 2006 18:27 PDT
Rated:3 out of 5 stars

This discussion on the WebmasterWorld forum is in keeping with what
I'm aware of, and suggests that "the simple answer is no", and that
you'd be better off having recipients sign a "draconian" non-disclosure
agreement, and be prepared to sue them if they violate it:

The only program I ran across which sounded even moderately effective
was FileConfidante! by Kilowatt Software L.L.C., but it's not clear,
to me, from the page, whether it would work with your scenario, given
the implication that you want your users to be able to input data:

"Secured files are encrypted on your system.

 An internet-based pre-installation process prepares a secure key for
 the target system 1.

 Secured files are decrypted on the target system,
 by a supervising program that verifies the target system's key.

 After the key is verified, the supervising program starts a viewer
 for decrypted files [Other applications can process decrypted files,
 not just viewers].

 Decrypted files are automatically removed, after viewing."

You might try contacting them to see if the use of their
software will allow you any protection under the parameters
of your specific situation, but if the result data itself is
what you're trying to protect, after they've entered their 
personal data to arrive at those results, it doesn't seem
likely that this program will provide you any real protection.

If I'm way off base in understanding your question, or if
you have any questions about my response, please post a 
Request for Clarification.


Additional information may be found from an exploration of
the links resulting from the Google searches outlined below.

Searches done, via Google:

excel "copy protection"

Request for Answer Clarification by cginsd-ga on 10 May 2006 19:52 PDT
Thanks for picking this up. Actually, I do seem to have sent you up
the wrong alley.

My problem is with internal users and not one of disclosure - I have
no problem with them printing out the data for example or creating a
PDF or even a screen dump. My issue is simply to prevent these
spreadsheets becoming a circulated, electronic data source.

Clarification of Answer by sublime1-ga on 10 May 2006 20:01 PDT

Well, as noted on the WebmasterWorld forum discussion, if you're
giving them access to the file to the extent that they can enter
data, there's simply no way to prevent a copy from being made
and distributed by your internal users. An NDA could specify
prohibition of copying and circulating the file.

If I'm still missing the boat, please clarify...


Request for Answer Clarification by cginsd-ga on 10 May 2006 20:39 PDT
The forum topic doesn't really speak to my problem, as it starts with
the idea of me 'sending' it to them and them then having a local copy
already. It also seems to focus on how to protect the information
contained in the data rather than the electronic duplication of the
data itself.

My assumption was that if the files were made available to the users
on a network drive, there would be some way of preventing them copying
it locally or emailing out to their buddies.

I realise I'm milking my 10 bucks here, but I really want a definitive
'there is no way to stop them copying the file' kind of answer...

Clarification of Answer by sublime1-ga on 10 May 2006 21:26 PDT

I thought that implication was clear from my responses, but I was
able to locate yet another post on an MS Support Newsgroup, that
is quite specific to your question, addressing the issue of not
allowing an Excel file to be copied from a network location. Once
again, the answer is no, unless you literally deny those who access
the file permission to write to any part of their systems:

Naturally, if they're able to write data to the file in order to
chart results, then they have write access.

Also discussed is hiding the Excel file but making the data
available in another form. Obviously this would prohibit the
user from utilizing the spreadsheet by entering data and getting
a scenario back.

Unless I'm being truly obtuse here, there is simply no way to
prevent an accessible Excel file from being copied and still 
be used in the way I'm understanding your intentions to be.

cginsd-ga rated this answer:3 out of 5 stars
I understand the answer is that you cannot apply permissions to a file
specifying  where it can be saved; the only way to achieve this to is
to deny a user the rights to save any file to specific places.
Still don't think I have got to the bottom of this, but I will reframe the question.

There are no comments at this time.

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