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.

9 comments
mtennant
mtennant

This has nothing to do with the content of the article, but you put together tutorials very similar to how I do them. I notice that you do a PrtScn to show screens as they should look; however, if you're like me, you may take it to Paint and do some editing. Somewhere along the line I discovered that if you use Alt+PrtScn, you get an exact shot of just the ACTIVE screen and you don't have to erase all that extra stuff around the screen that you want to show. (I could see some residual stuff around the edges.) Great article, too...thanks for that.

robo_dev
robo_dev

The infamous BTK serial killer was identified and aprehended because of Microsoft Word metadata on a floppy disk he sent to police. Rader had killed ten people between 1974-1991. By 2004 the investigation had stalled. "The police corresponded with Rader in an effort to gain his confidence. Then, in one of his communications with police, Rader asked them if it were possible to trace information from floppy disks. The police department replied that there was no way of knowing what computer such a disk had been used on, when in fact there was. Rader then sent his message and floppy to the police department, which quickly checked the metadata of the document. In the metadata, they found that the document has been made by a man who called himself Dennis. They also found a link to the 'Christ Lutheran Church'. When the police searched on the internet for 'Lutheran Church Wichita Dennis', they found his family name, and were able to identify a suspect: Dennis Rader." from wikipedia

ssharkins
ssharkins

Glad you liked the article -- thank you! I use software to capture screen shots and due to the nature of the downloads, etc., I purposely crop all but the pertinent graphic. I usually do a good job, but occasionally, I miss some fuzzy stuff. Paint comes in handy if I want to emphasize something by circling it.

ssharkins
ssharkins

I had no idea -- that is a fascinating story. Thank you for sharing it.

Joe-Swanson
Joe-Swanson

Too bad the horse is a compulsive liar.

catseverywhere
catseverywhere

What do you want to bet that even if you do all this, there's still some unique identifier embedded? I wouldn't put it past Microsoft. They did this for the traceability in the first place. I can't believe they'd leave it up to the end user to completely turn this off. Probably got disabled by one of those "secret updates," sure, the check boxes still check and uncheck, but don't actually do anything to the metadata... like the thermostat in the office that isn't really hooked up. =)

catseverywhere
catseverywhere

Really, now what do you want to bet rhdtool actually flags you somehow. After all, who would be concerned about hidden data, right? What do you have to hide, there?? Why are you so concerned about not being traceable, Mr. Enduser??? Be interesting to run a system wide binary diff of before/after running that tool!

ssharkins
ssharkins

Well, you certainly made me think on that one. You might be right.

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