Computer researcher Simon Byers has a word of advice for anyone
concerned about protecting their personal information: You might
want to reconsider using Microsoft Word software. As Mark Ward of
the BBC reports, Byers conducted a survey of 100,000 Word
documents from various web sites and discovered that every one of
them contained hidden information — including previously deleted
text, the names of authors who worked on various document drafts,
and information about the network in which the document traveled.
In some cases he even discovered social security numbers.
The hidden content in Microsoft Word has caused controversy
worldwide. When a Word document revealed the names of four civil
servants who co-authored Britain’s infamous ‘dodgy dossier,’ press
office head Alastair Campbell was forced to explain their
involvement to the House of Commons Foreign Affairs Select
Committee. Last summer, The Washington Post published a
letter sent to the police that included sensitive information,
including names and telephone numbers, the publication used black
boxes to mask the details. The boxes, however, were easily removed
with the proper software.
‘Unix and Linux users can turn tools such as Antiword and Cadoc
to turn the document, including its text information, into a simple
text file,’ Ward reports. Other hidden text that could be accessed
by such programs include:
- Text from other documents open at the same time
- E-mail headers and server information
- Printer names
- Data about the terminal on which the document was written
- Where the document is saved
- Document version number and format
Byers advises users who are dedicated to Microsoft Word to
access utility programs that scrub information from their documents
and to follow Microsoft guidelines on protecting them.
Word Documents Contain Hidden Info