Metawall strips hidden Word data

Companies can now strip potentially embarrassing metadata from Word documents before they are e-mailed, using Metawall, a new...

Companies can now strip potentially embarrassing metadata from Word documents before they are e-mailed, using Metawall, a new product from UKsupplier Workshare, writes Eric Doyle.

Microsoft Word documents often contain information about the author of a document, comments and even routing information. Changes made during the document's development are also embedded in the file when the Track Changes function is used. Even when this feature is turned off after use, the metadata is still embedded in the document.

There have been several incidents where recipients of a file have looked at this metadata and discovered compromising information. For example, storage supplier EMC was revealed to have backed off from calling itself "the world leader in information storage".

The Government was left open to damaging accusations when it released a budget document earlier this year that had been created in Word. Journalists were able to see how some politically sensitive paragraphs had been reworded.

Barrie Hadfield, chief technical officer at Workshare, said, "There are also dangers for legal firms of revealing privileged information when swapping documents with opposing counsels but, though I am sure it must happen, cases like this rarely get spoken about."

Removal of the metadata is often beyond the user and even simple precautions, such as removal of the information in the Properties section, is time-consuming and easily forgotten.

Metawall aims to simplify this by automating the process. The software links to Microsoft Outlook's e-mail manager and Word so that metadata can be removed at either stage. When a Word document is sent by e-mail it is scanned and cleansed.

Metawall allows a metadata instruction to be inserted into any internal document containing sensitive information to prevent it from being e-mailed out of the company. It also allows documents to be examined to reveal any metadata they contain.

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