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How to manage Macro security in Microsoft®Office

Application Microsoft® Office® General Version 1.00
Author OfficeHelp
Tested on versions: 2000 (9.0), XP (10.0), 2003 (11.0) - should work on any version from Office 97



Macros are software applications that run inside other applications, like Office packages. In fact, many commercial software's now include some form of end-user programming to allow for customization and automations of common tasks. Microsoft's VBA (Visual Basic for Applications) is the macro language bundled into Office and currently licensed to many other software makers.

They are very useful to extend the usefulness and productivity of the Office applications. As an example, in this website you can find, among others, Macros that build calendar plans using Excel and no extra software. You can do them manually but it will be a lot of work, specially if you have to update them or make new ones regularly. This wouldn't be possible

Click here to check the full list of Macros available on this website.

Using Office 2007?

Specific instructions below. Click here to jump to it.

Using Office 2010?

Specific instructions below. Click here to jump to it.

This article addresses all versions from Microsoft® Office 97 to Microsoft® Office 2010.

Are Macros dangerous? 

Macros are potentially dangerous. Since they are software and run by the PC user, they can do almost anything on the computer they're running, including erasing the hard drive and other forms of damage. And since they are imbedded in office applications, they can be mailed as regular office files. In fact, one of the first virus to use email to spread was the Melissa Virus, a Word Macro! Of course, back in 1999, email virus were just starting and nobody expected them, so email was considered safe and no defenses were in place.

Microsoft included some defenses into Office applications, like allowing users to request being questioned before running Office files with Macros. But since many users allow anything requested to them, the security measures become tougher and tougher every Office version:

  • Office 97 - Macros enabled by default without any warning, user could activate a warning message and decide what to do when opening files with Macros;
  • Office 2000 - Macros warning enabled by default, users would have to grant/deny permission to run every time they opened a file with Macros. Later updates to Office 2000, like the SP3 (Service Pack3), enforce security settings like the ones on Office XP;
  • Office XP and Office 2003 - Macros are completely disabled by default, unless the macro file is signed by its Author. In this case, the user can decide (on the warning message) to run or cancel the Macro. On a more permanent basis, the user can change the macro security settings to allow the running of unsigned Macros, with or without warning. 
  • Office 2007 - Files with macros will always open but with macros disabled. You can enable the macros to run after the file is loaded.

Given that most users have one of the 3 latest versions of Office, and macros don't run by default on them (at least without a warning), Office macros aren't currently the preferred platform for virus. But the latent danger remains.

What can you do to enable the running of Macros?

If macros are disabled, opening a file with a Macro will give no warnings until you try to use any functionality that required the macro, when a message such as this will be shown:

Macro Disabled Warning

If you have any need to run Macros and find that they are disabled, you can activate them following some easy steps. Never change the Macro security level to "Low", as it will enable the Macros to run without any warning. Change it to "Medium", where each time you open an Office file with a Macro, you will be prompted to allow its execution.

This steps have been recorded using an Office 2000 version of Excel, but should be valid to all office applications and versions from Office 2000, aesthetics apart. So even if it looks a bit different, the mentioned menus and dialog boxes should be there (if not press here) .

1) On the "Tools" menu, select the "Security" entry of the "Macros" submenu:

Macros location on the Tools menu

 

2) To run unsigned macros under specific permission, like the ones currently provided by www.officehelp.biz, select the Medium option. You will be prompted every time you run a file with a macro for permission toe execute the macro. The default (High) will only run signed Macros, that some providers supply, and only after permission. Never choose the "low" option. Press OK to save.

Macro security levels

3) When you try to execute a macro on a "Medium" security level (or signed Macro on  the "High" security level) you are prompted with the permission to run the Macro. Click the "Enable Macros" button to 

Macro execution prompt

What if the menus or options are not there?

If you can't find the mentioned menu entries on your Office 2000 / XP / 2003 then it is possible that the Office Macros functionality is not installed. Get the Office installation CD and install the missing components. If you're using Office 97, the activation of the Macro security options was on the "Options" entry of the "Tools" menu.

Office 2007 - Specific Instructions

Office 2007 has a completely new interface, based on the new "Ribbon" instead of the classic Menu / Toolbar set. The handling of macro security is also different and based on a different principle. Files with macros will always open but with macros disabled. You can enable the macros to run after the file is loaded.

1) Open the file with the macros. The file will open normally and no warning messages will be given, but macros will not work. Below the Ribbon, there is a discrete warning message and a button:

Office 2007 Warning Message and Button

2) Click the "Options" button and a pop-up windows will be shown. Select "Enable this content" and click "OK" to enable the macros.

Office 2007 - Macro Activation Pop-Up

3) Use the macro. There is NO NEED to close and reopen the file.

Office 2010 Single Click Macro Activation - Specific Instructions

Office 2010 interface is similar to Excel 2007 but there is a difference in the way macros are enabled, with a single click needed. Files with macros will always open but with macros disabled. You can enable the macros to run after the file is loaded.

1) Open the file with the macros. The file will open normally and no warning messages will be given, but macros will not work. Below the Ribbon, there is a discrete warning message and a button:

Office 2010 Warning Message and Button

2) Click the "Enable Content" button to enable the macros with a single click. Macros will be enabled and the warning message will disappear:

Office 2010 - Single-Click Macro Activation

3) Use the macro. There is NO NEED to close and reopen the file.

 

Notes for Corporate Users

The configuration of the Office applications installed on corporate computers is usually defined centrally by the IT team: users may or not be allowed to change them. If the configuration is locked, you won't be able to change it because the options don't work or are not available on the menus. If this is your case, you do need to contact your IT support staff to enable Macros on your system. They will probably demand a valid working reason to do so and may want to try and test the Macros you intend to run.

Macros supplied by OfficeHelp.Biz are all safe and can be checked by the IT department for safety before being used on any computer.

Can I get extra information on this subject?

The Help file on any of the Office applications should have detailed information on Macros. Open help (using the Help menu or pressing the F1 key) and search for Macro, as on the following picture.

Help on Macros



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