Windows will automatically index and let you search Office documents on your computer or network – how can you stop that happening?
Maybe the document is personal or so private you don’t want anyone to find it with a Windows Search. Or discover that the document even exists!
The most direct way to restrict access to a document is password protection. A password protected document can’t be indexed or searched by Windows.
Word, Excel and PowerPoint all have password options for their documents at File | Info | Protect Document.
Indexing file property
Every file has a series of properties saved in the file system like Read Only and Hidden. There’s another property that controls if the file is indexed. The default setting is ON.
Go to file property General | Advanced | ‘Allow this file to have contents indexed in addition to file properties‘. Uncheck this box if you do NOT want the file to be searchable.
An entire folder or folder tree can be set for no-indexing.
This property should ‘travel’ with the file when it’s copied/moved. Moving / copying a file/folder should normally include the properties, but not always. It depends on the program used for copying, the format of the destination drive and, seemingly, the relative positions of the sun and moon <sigh>.
In short, check the ‘no index’ state after a move/copy.
Index Encrypted Files
Windows Indexing has an option to “Index encrypted files” but it’s doesn’t mean what some people think it means.
Indexing Options | Advanced | Index Settings | Index encrypted files. This option is normally OFF.
In this context ‘Encrypted Files’ means Encrypted File System EFS , a long-standing part of the Windows NTFS file system. It does NOT include password protected files in Word, Excel and PowerPoint.
You control EFS for files/folders at the Advanced Properties in Explorer.
EFS isn’t used much anymore because EFS has been superseded by the more secure Bitlocker service.
But, if you have a file or folder that you want NOT to be indexed, EFS is an option.
- Change the Advanced Attribute for the file/folders to ‘Encrypt contents to secure data’. No password or other settings are required because your Windows login unlocks EFS automatically.
- Go to the Indexing setup and turn on the option ‘Index encrypted files’.
- Reindex the computer – see below.
The Windows Indexing system is somewhat shrouded in mystery. Setting a file/folder to ‘no indexing’ apparently does NOT remove the file from an existing Windows index. Same goes for using EFS.
To ensure removal you’ll have to force a reindex of the computer – with the troubles that entails – after making changes to remove a file from the index. Doing that seems to be the most prudent course.
Rename to the wrong extension
Changing the file extension to something wrong for that file type is a brutish but effective way to stop a file being indexed.
WhistleblowerNotes.docx can become WhistleblowerNotes.docx.fred . The indexing system won’t even try to index the file because it doesn’t know what a .fred file is,
The Office application (Word, Excel or PowerPoint) can still open a file with an unusual extension but you have to do it explicitly from File | Open instead of double-clicking etc.