Software

How to protect private information stored by Word

Protect user privacy in Word documents

Word automatically stores a few pieces of information about your computer's identity (or you) when you create a new document. You can get a glimpse by opening a document, even a blank one, and choosing Properties from the File menu. The Summary tab will display, at the very least, your Windows logon name (which might not be your real name).

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Word documents also store a randomly generated number that someone can use to trace a document back to your computer, if they have access to your computer. Within most organizations, a file is easy to trace this way.

Most of the time, this information is helpful, but it can be intrusive and even abused by others. You can inhibit this information but it's an all or nothing venture because you must disable these properties via your document template. For most of us, that's Normal.dot. The first trick is to find and open Normal.dot (or the appropriate template). Most likely, your Word templates are in the following folder:

C:\Documents and Settings\your name\Application Data\Microsoft\Templates

If that path doesn't seem to exist for you, you'll need to take a few extra steps to view hidden folders:

  1. From the Start menu, choose My Documents.
  2. Choose Tools and then select Folder Options.
  3. Click the View tab and click Show Hidden Files And Folders in the Hidden Files And Folders section.
  4. Click OK.

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Once you find the template, open it in Word and follow these steps to disable the appropriate properties:

  1. Choose Options from the Tools menu and click the Security tab.
  2. Select the Remove Personal Information From File Properties On Save option in the Privacy Options section.
  3. Deselect the Store Random Number To Improve Merge Accuracy option.
  4. Click OK.
  5. Save the template file and close it.

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There's one drawback to disabling the random number option. If you merge revised documents, Word will no longer prompt you to merge changes when you open a revised document. Fortunately, you can perform the merge manually by choosing Compare And Merge Documents from the Tools menu.

Another possible drawback might be the trouble you get in with your system administrator. If you really feel you need to make these changes to your template, check with your administrator first. I don't want you to get in trouble. It's also possible that you can't change your template — kudos to the administrator who's in control. Now, as a user you might not like that much control, but you might have to negotiate your needs with your administrator.

About

Susan Sales Harkins is an IT consultant, specializing in desktop solutions. Previously, she was editor in chief for The Cobb Group, the world's largest publisher of technical journals.

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