Are my spelling mistakes out there for all to see?
May 18, 2010 4:18 AM   Subscribe

Are the changes I made to my Word document accessible?

I really don't want them to be. If I email (or send by CD) a document to someone can they (even if it would be complicated and arduous) get to the changes and deletions that were made before the final iteration? I use various versions of Word going back to 2000. My question is more about if this can be done rather than how to prevent it.
posted by InkaLomax to Computers & Internet (7 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
The easiest way to get round this is to send it as a PDF, obviously.

I think, failing that, you can copy the whole contents into a new document and it won't register who did what edits previously.
posted by MuffinMan at 4:28 AM on May 18, 2010

What you are looking for is metadata. The Microsoft website has an article about it, describing the types of metadata in Word documents. Addbalance is a website about Word, written by a lawyer for a law-firm audience, and it has an article with additional information.
posted by Houstonian at 4:31 AM on May 18, 2010 [1 favorite]

As MuffinMan says, converting to PDF is safest.

For 2003/xp you can use the remove hidden data add-in. 2007 has an option under prepare -> Inspect Document that warns you of any hidden data. Prior to 2003 there is a lot that can go wrong.

The usual doh mistake is leaving track changes on, followed by incriminating document properties (the metadata Houstonian is talking about).
posted by samj at 4:37 AM on May 18, 2010

The thing is, just turning track changes off does not take away prior changes. You need to accept all changes and then turn track changes off. Then all your spelling corrections, etc. have been finalized and you won't see them even if you turn track changes back on.

But of course, like others said- sending a PDF is a good idea, if possible.
posted by Eicats at 7:10 AM on May 18, 2010

The biggest issue with "leaking" changes is through Word's "track changes" feature. Really old versions of word had a feature called "quick save" which effectively acted as if "track changes" was on all the time.

Besides track changes (mentioned above and the usual culprit of previous edits "leaking"), if you have document versioning active, you are saving multiple copies (versions) of the same file all in one big wrapper, and you could revert back to those old versions.

At the risk of exceeding the scope of the question, I think the previous comments summarize file-level analysis pretty well. If you are presenting the entire computer to a forensic analyst, then there's a whole different set of issues that might allow a computer forensic analyst to recover the state of the document (or evidence suggesting the state of the document) at a previous point in time. For instance, if you're running Google Desktop, there might be an older index containing the (old) text of the document. Same thing for Windows services like Volume Shadow Copy. On an even simpler level, there might be temp files created by Word (and not deleted, say, after a program crash or unclean exit) which might reflect an older version.

At an even deeper level, you might see snippets of the document in question in the system page file, in unallocated space on the hard drive (after deleting / moving the file around) or in slack space in other files. Tracing those snippets back to a particular point in time and making constructive use of that evidence can be challenging, but it's not impossible. This stuff often is important where mere possession of data is incriminating (i.e., child pornography, secret information from a competitor, customer lists).
posted by QuantumMeruit at 7:21 AM on May 18, 2010

If there's not a lot of formatting involved, the quick and dirty, but totally reliable, way to clean up the doc is to save it as text only (*.txt), then re-open it and re-save it as Word (obviously with a different filename). You'll lose all the bold, italics, paragraph formatting, etc., and you'll need to re-format that stuff. But if you're in a hurry to solve this problem and want to fix it in the next 10 minutes and then go back at leisure later for other, more elegant solutions, this is guaranteed to work.

For earlier versions of Word, there used to be a Microsoft add-in to clear out old metadata, more or less like Inspect > Remove in Word 2007. I confess I can't remember what it was called, or where to find it, but I used to use it successfuly before updating to Word 2007. Something like "Remove hiddden data" or similar.
posted by aqsakal at 8:10 AM on May 18, 2010

I researched this a little while back - I ended up going with Doc Scrubber because I have an older version of Word. I believe it's much easier with the newer versions.
posted by mrs. taters at 1:34 PM on May 18, 2010

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