Protected View In Word 2010

Protected View is one of the new security enhancements employed by applications in Office 2010. It addresses the problem of how to identify documents that pose a risk to you and what to do with them.

In the past, hackers have been able to embed their own code in Office binary files. If, for example, you opened a hacked Word document, the hacker’s code would then run and perform all sorts of ugly messiness on you and your colleagues. To help protect against this kind of malicious attack, Microsoft introduced the new XML file format in Office 2007.

MOICE (Microsoft Office Isolated Converter Environment)

As well as introducing the new XML file format, Microsoft also released MOICE. MOICE takes a potentially dangerous binary file, converts it to an XML based document and then converts it back to the binary format. This conversion/reconversion process takes place in a sandbox area with the hope that any malicious code gets left behind. The problem with incorporating these extra conversion tasks, of course, is that they are an overhead and can lead to longer file opening times. Also, there were integrity issues as the conversion process did not always retain a document’s layout.

The Office 2010 Sandbox

To get around some of the problems users had been experiencing, Microsoft designed the new Protected View for documents that are potentially risky. Protected View simply opens documents in a read-only view in the new Office 2010 sandbox. The Office 2010 sandbox is the next version of the MOICE sandbox. However, now no file conversion is necessary. Users can open their document safely in read-only view, and when satisfied that it poses no risks, they can then enable editing.

What actually happens behind the scenes is that the document is opened in a second sandboxed instance of Word. As the document is opened in an isolated environment, there is no chance for any hacked code to reach your or your colleagues’ documents, or interfere with your computer’s settings.

When Does Word 2010 Use Protected View?

Intuitively, we know that the following types of files could pose risks:

  • files downloaded from the internet. Windows tags the downloaded document with a flag indicating that it came from the internet and then when Word opens the document it checks this flag. If the flag is set, the document opens in Protected View.
  • files residing in unsafe locations. Following on from the above, the Temporary Internet Files folder is deemed an unsafe location.
  • files received as attachments in Outlook.
  • files of a certain type. The File Block Policy introduced by Microsoft in 2007 was too limiting in that it stopped users from opening certain file types, regardless of whether they knew that the files were trustworthy. In Word 2010, the File Block Policy has been changed to open those file types in Protected View. The system administrator can also give permission to users at system level to leave Protected View and enable editing for those file types.

There is some configuration that system administrators can perform that will avoid unnecessary sandboxing of documents if they are from a source established as trustworthy. For example, the administrator can decide that only documents received in Outlook from senders outside the Exchange environment will be opened in Protected View. They can also flag certain directories as being unsafe so that documents saved there will be sandboxed when opened.

The Advantages Of Protected View

In the past you may have received warning dialogue boxes reminding you that you should only open attachments from trusted sources and asking you for confirmation that you do actually want to open the document. Of course, many times you need to be able to see the document before you can make that decision! Protected View allows you to see the document first and then make an informed decision.

Enable Editing

If you decide that your document is safe, click on Enable Editing in the red bar running across the top of the workspace.