How to encrypt specific sections of Google Docs with the DocSecrets add-on

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Anyone who needs to hide away sections of text in Google Documents should give this handy add-on a try.

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Image: Google

I use Google Docs in the cloud every day. In fact, it’s probably the app that I use most during the day. I spend probably five to six hours of my day in Docs. That translates to me banging out a lot of words. Most of those words come in the form of either tech or fiction writing (and sometimes both). Every so often, however, I have to write bits that are of a more sensitive nature, which can come in the form of company secrets or personal information. When whole documents are sensitive, I tend to not write them in Google Docs, but rather a locally installed tool that makes it possible to encrypt a document.

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But sometimes I’ll have a document that includes only portions that need to be hidden away from prying eyes. Say, for example, I have a document that needs to be sent to a company and read by most of the employees but also contains a section of information that should only be read by certain staff members. What do I do? Create two different documents?

There’s a better way. With a handy add-on, called DocSecrets, you can tuck portions of a Google Document away behind a password. This add-on does come with a caveat. For anyone to view the hidden text, they too have to have DocSecrets installed. You’ll also have to share the password used to encrypt the passages.

Even with those two minor caveats, this is a must-have add-on for anyone needing to encrypt portions of a Google Document that is to be shared with others.

Let’s install DocSecrets and see how it’s used.

How to install DocSecrets

Installing DocSecrets is done in the same way you’d install any Google Docs add-ons. Instead of going through the usual steps, simply make sure you’re logged into your Google account in your web browser of choice and go to the DocSecrets add-on page. Once there, click Install and then, when prompted, click CONTINUE. You will then be asked to select the account you want to associate with the add-on and then give it the necessary permissions. 

And that’s all there is to the installation of DocSecrets. Let’s find out how to use it.

How to encrypt text with DocSecrets

Using DocSecrets isn’t quite as intuitive as you might think. Here are the steps:

  1. Open the Google Document you want to work with.
  2. Click Add-ons | DocSecrets | Open.
  3. In the resulting sidebar (Figure A), type a password for the encrypted text and click Start.
  4. Figure A

    The DocSecrets sidebar is ready to obfuscate your text.

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    The DocSecrets sidebar is ready to obfuscate your text.

  5. Either type or paste the text you want password protected in the Enter Text area near the bottom.
  6. Click Insert.

The text you entered will appear in the document behind a color (Figure B).

Figure B

Encrypted text appears, but is hidden behind a foreground color.

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Encrypted text appears, but is hidden behind a foreground color.

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Keep writing and adding encrypted text as needed to complete your document.

Once you’ve finished, you can share that document with another user and, as long as that user has the add-in installed (and knows the password used to encrypt the text), they can reveal what you’ve hidden.

If you already have your document completed, you can select the text you want to hide and then click Censor text at the bottom of the DocSecrets pane.

How to reveal hidden text

When someone receives the new document, they’ll see all of the unencrypted text as expected, but the encrypted text will be a line or block of color. To reveal the hidden text, they must start the DocSecrets add-on (from Add-ons | DocSecrets | Open) and then type the password used to encrypt the text. Once they’ve done that, the text will appear in the sidebar (Figure C).

Figure C

The hidden text appears in the sidebar, each block indicated by color.

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The hidden text appears in the sidebar, each block indicated by color.

The one caveat is that the text within the document will always be blocked out by the color unless you click the associated Reveal button (to reveal a single hidden block or line of text) or Reveal All (to reveal everything at once). This will effectively remove the encryption from the document. The issue with this is that a user could then share the document with a user who isn’t supposed to be able to view the encrypted text. Because of this, you should be careful who you share these documents with. Make sure those users (even if it’s your CEO) understand they shouldn’t share a document that has had text permanently revealed.

And that’s the gist of using this very handy Google Docs add-on. If you’ve been looking for a way to hide sensitive information from certain users, this might well be exactly what you’re looking for. 

And, best of all, DocSecrets is free and only requires you to have a Google Account.

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