Removing Hidden Personal Information from Microsoft Office Documents

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Microsoft Office and other Windows applications retain all types of personal information like user name, computer name, name of company, date and time last edited and such critical information – both overt and covert - when the user saves a file. Some information might not be apparently visible when the user views the document in an Office program, but there is, unless deleted, a possible risk of viewing or even retrieving hidden information.

Nature of hidden information

Office documents may invariably contain hidden data and personal information such as comments, track changes, revision work and ink interpolations particularly in edited documents. Quite often these types of hidden information may be sensitive in nature or information meant to be hidden from the recipient. These types of information, if not securely hidden, can enable others to know names of people who worked on the document, comments from reviewers, and the original content of documents and the subsequent alterations made to them.

Document properties, more widely known as metadata, include critical details about a document which need to be safely hidden. There are also other types of details that are automatically maintained by Office programs which have to be made inaccessible to others. If any specific features had been used, then the document might also contain personally identifiable information such as the name of a person, mailing address, e-mail Id, IP address, or personal information about people associated with another program.

The hidden text may also include e-mail headers, review particulars, slips exchanged and file path information for publishing Web pages. As is well-known, Word documents and Excel workbooks can also contain information in headers and footers. There can be a watermark on Word document.

Steps to remove personal information

As more and more complex features are getting added to MS Word, there is a commensurate increase in the risk of exposing critical information to others who receive the document electronically. Microsoft has presumably understood the problem and a facility is available in Word that will remove personal information from the document before it is shared with others:

To remove personal information from Microsoft Office document, all that the user has to do is to follow a few simple steps:

  • Right click on the file
  • Select Properties.
  • Click on the tab Details
  • Next Click on "Remove Properties and Personal Information"
  • From the menu that opens “Remove Properties, check”
  • Remove the following properties from this file “and then click on”
  • Select All and OK

After the above steps are completed, all the hidden personal data from Microsoft Office file will stand deleted

Before sharing an important document with colleagues or clients, it is prudent to totally review the contents of the document to ensure that it does not contain any personal or sensitive information. When sharing an electronic copy of a Microsoft Office document, it is better to review the document for hidden data that might be stored in the document itself or in the document properties (metadata).