Monday, November 07, 2005

MS Word Strikes Again

A story, Beware Your Trail of Digital Fingerprints, in today's NYT that summarizes the "secrecy" problems inherent in Microsoft Word documents, one of which was previously noted here.

The incident that triggered the NYT article involved the information contained in the Word document's "metadata" that disclosed the author and the author's "company" affiliation. The document in question was a position piece on Judge Samuel Alito distributed on a "background" basis by the Democratic National Committee. The article also discusses the report on the assassination of Lebanon's former prime minister, Rafik Hariri, that I had discussed.

The article offers these protective steps from Dennis Kennedy:
Saving a copy of a document in "rich text format" (RTF), or as a simple text file first (options in the Save menu), and then converting it into the common "portable document format" (PDF) before circulating it is a good tack, Mr. Kennedy said. Still, some debate remains as to whether traces of metadata from word-processing programs like Microsoft Word are carried through to the PDF file.
Of course, even PDF has its problems. In May, Dave Fishel reported on the ease with which material in PDF documents that authors had believed to be redacted can be uncovered. Fishel's comments with respect to whether the inability of Adobe Acrobat "redactions" to permanently hide the intended material can be fairly characterized as a "potential problem with PDF" are relevant to the Word "problem" as well:
I'd characterize it as a lack of skills and awareness on the users' part, which is generally related to a lack of training, lack of curiosity about and time to use and understand the tools, and also to a failure by organizations to provide proper tools and methods.

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