Wambooli Dispatch









Recently Released

January 2019

November 2018

Peeling Personal Information from a Word Document

Whether you like it or not, Word (and other Office applications) save personal information in each document you create. It's possible for someone to find out who created the document, how much time you've spent working on it, and other information that some of us would consider to be personal and private. Yet, all versions of Word save this information to disk with each document you create.

In some cases this data has been used by law enforcement to track down criminals. The doofus who created the famous Melissa virus a few years back didn't realize that such personal information was included with each infected Word file; once the FBI knew this, it was a simple thing for them to look into an infected document and locate the guy's name and also which company he worked for.

Where the information lurks

You can see some of this information by using the FileProperties command in Word.

Shown above, you can see that the document (even without any text in it) has a title, an Author, and the company name.

The Author and Company information was input when I registered my copy of Word, in this case Word 2000.

The Statistics tab in the same dialog box contains information about the document, including the exact date and time I started working on the document, how long I've been working on it, when it was printed, and so on.

In some organizations, with network-installed versions of Word, there may be even more information included with the document, maybe even your hat size!

Getting rid of the information

I can never figure out if Microsoft was told by its major customers that such a feature was wanted or whether they just stuck it in there to be rude. Either way, you probably don't want such data floating around in your Word documents.

If you have Word versions 2002 (also known as XP) or Word 2003, then you can disable this awful feature. Here's how:

Choose ToolsOptions
Click the Security tab in the Options dialog box

Put a check mark by the item, "Remove personal information from file properties on save."
Click OK

Now the information will not be saved to disk with your document.

To make the change permanent for all documents, it's necessary to open the NORMAL.DOT template and make the changes there — but this is tricky: You must create a dummy template for NORMAL.DOT, say NORMAL.DOX. Save it in the same folder as NORMAL.DOT. Then quit Word, delete NORMAL.DOT and rename NORMAL.DOX to NORMAL.DOT. Providing that you made the above changes to the template, then all your new files will carry the change. (Sorry that this is so technical, but that's Microsoft.)

Antique Versions of Word

If you have an earlier version of Word, then you're pretty much stuck. There are a few tricks to pull to weed out the personal stuff, such as copying all the text and pasting it into WordPad. Or you can try saving the document in another format, which does strip out some of the data. But when you re-open the document back in Word, that stuff is put in there again all nice and ugly.

As an example, if you want to create a "clean" document —providing that you're done working on it, you can try this:

Choose FileSave As
In the Save As dialog box, put double quotes around the filename.

This ensures that Word saves the file using the .DOC extension and does not create a new file on disk.

From the Save as type" drop-down list, choose either "Text Only (*.txt)" or "WordPerfect 5.x for Windows (*.doc)"

Choose the Text Only option if your document doesn't need to be formatted, otherwise to retain most of your formatting, choose the WordPerfect option. (Again, avoid RTF or HTML as those formats still retain the personal things.)

Note that the WordPerfect format may not be installed on your computer. You'll need the original Office or Word CD to install that feature if prompted.

If a warning appears, click the Yes button.

The document now saved on disk is missing the personal information. But note that if you open it up in Word again, that information gets added back in. So if this is really an issue for you, I recommend that you consider an upgrade; between Office XP and Office 2003, I recommend 2003, but keep in mind that you must be running Windows XP/2000 for that version of Word to install. (Even more grief from Microsoft.)