Monday, February 06, 2006

Avoiding Problems with Hidden Document Metadata

SiliconValley.com, an offshoot of the San Jose Mercury News, printed an article on Feb. 3 entitled Stronger efforts being made against embarrassing document 'metadata' [no longer available on the site] that describes the potential embarrassment that can come from the metadata hidden in word processing documents.

A Word file, for example, will contain metadata on "who authored it, when someone saved it and what that person did to it", including any attempts to modify or hide pretty damaging information. That kind of data remains attached to the document, unless it is deliberately deleted, and it can come back to haunt the author or authors.

The article explains that examining the metadata in a word processing document exposed how pharma giant Merck had tried to mask data showing the connection between the drug Vioxx and heart attacks. Very embarrassing. As well, "a United Nations report on the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minster Rafik Hariri developed new layers of intrigue when it was revealed that damaging accusations about Syria's involvement had been removed before publication."

The article outlines some of the tools that can assist document creators in cleaning up juicy metadata, to the great dismay of journalists everywhere I suppose.

The Canadian Privacy Law Blog comments on the article: "Program designers need to make sure that the programs they publish are set to be secure and that users are educated about the possibility of compromising confidential information if the features are enabled. And while I'm at it, I'll suggest that the two most-used programs in Microsoft's Office suite, Word and Outlook, need to work together to deal with the issue. Programming a feature to warn users that they are about to e-mail a document with metadata probably wouldn't be impossible. Or have it only throw up a flag if the document is mailed to someone beyond the local exchange server. And have it alert if a document is being copied off a networked drive onto a CD, thumb-drive or other portable media."

Other articles on the hidden metadata in legal and other documents include:

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posted by Michel-Adrien at 6:58 pm

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