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Spreadsheet security? What spreadsheet security!

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Comment I have written before, and will say again, that Microsoft Excel does not have security. It does actually have some security features but most users don't know about them and, if they do, they are frequently not implemented.

In any case, as Microsoft has explicitly stated, the security features in Excel are not actually there to provide security but to make life simpler for users. For example, you can hide worksheets from users so as not to confuse them and you can apply what locking is available for the same reason: so that users just focus on what they need to do and not on other stuff.

All of that being the case, it is surprising that none of the established players in the enterprise spreadsheet management market have majored on providing spreadsheet security as a first and foremost requirement. Instead, the likes of Compassoft, Mobius, Cimcon and Prodiance have focused on control and compliance—no doubt because of the pressure to be able to sign-off against the requirements of Sarbanes-Oxley and similar regulations.

However, while I understand the short-term benefits of taking such an approach surely this is putting the cart before the horse: if your spreadsheets aren't fully secure then the ability to track changes to your spreadsheets is of only limited value. This is not to say, of course, that any of the aforementioned vendors do not provide some measure of security but shouldn't it be the cornerstone of any solution?

In fact, there is a new vendor to the market that is offering just that. The company is ROISoft and its product is ExSafe. It is based in Dublin, Ireland and started marketing its product around the end of last year though it has been acting in stealth mode until now. Nevertheless, it has already won a couple of major financial organisations on Wall Street as customers, in competition with more established suppliers in the market.

So, what has ExSafe got going for it? To begin with it has security at its heart and then has control and compliance built on top of that. Indeed, its control and compliance capabilities are probably not as extensive as some of its competitors—but its security is better.

Now, everybody who is anybody in this market provides role-based security, support for electronic signatures and locking down to cell level. But ExSafe adds a number of additional capabilities on top of these. For example, you can apply security at folder level and sub-folders can inherit those security characteristics so that you only have to apply changes at the sub-folder level, therefore making the administrator's task simpler.

Another thing that has particularly caught my attention is with respect to what happens when Excel crashes. The software automatically saves a temp file on your system. Anybody can come along and read this, yet has your spreadsheet management software (if you have one) any way of handling this? Certainly no vendor has previously mentioned this to me. But ExSafe automatically encrypts all secured ranges within temp files or .xls files, so that they cannot be read or used outside the ExSafe environment.

There is some other neat stuff: the way that you select groups of cells against which you want to apply security strictures is very simple, the discovery mechanism is clever and I like the fact that the software doesn't just track changes but also any attempted changes.

ExSafe may be new to the market but it is definitely a contender.

Copyright © 2007, IT-Analysis.com

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