How to Completely Delete Personal Metadata from Microsoft Office Documents?

How to Completely Delete Personal Metadata from Microsoft Office Documents
How to Completely Delete Personal Metadata from Microsoft Office Documents

Every action you take generates data in some way. When data is collected and evaluated, it is transformed into information. That information can reveal more about you than you’d like others to know.

The data accumulated over time might reveal everything about you and be used to assist or damage you. Metadata is the term for this type of information.

What exactly is Metadata?

Metadata is information about information. Don’t you despise it when people define a word with another word? Data is a set of entirely objective facts. It’s impossible to argue with it. One equals one, and 0 equals zero. The temperature is at its current level. The current date is the current date. You get my drift.

Metadata is information about a specific piece of information. Let’s use the example of composing a letter in Microsoft Word to demonstrate this.

You write a letter to the authorities about anything unethical, if not illegal, going on at work. Yes, things got a little dramatic right away.

The letter is made up of information made up of characters entered in a specific order. A bundle of ones and zeroes generated the characters you typed. The data that makes up the information in the letter is made up of ones and zeros.

Other data about the letter is created when the ones and zeroes are converted into the letter. When you typed the letter, who typed the letter, when it was last saved, and what version of Word it was created in are all examples of metadata or data about the data.

What is the Purpose of Metadata?

The majority of metadata in Microsoft Office is there only for your convenience. It can assist you in locating the most recent version of a document or determining who developed it so that you can ask them questions about it. It makes it easier to keep track of document revisions or comments.

It is also utilized to deal with the document by the Office application and other programs. Windows Explorer, for example, uses the information to categories and sort documents.

Why Do I Want to Get Rid of Metadata?

Let’s return to the letter you’re writing to the authorities about a suspicious situation at work. You’re doing it anonymously because you’re afraid of retaliation or simply don’t want to be engaged beyond alerting authorities. It’s called “whistleblowing.”

To hide your trails, you get a temporary e-mail address and send it from a public computer at a library. The document may contain information that can be used to link it back to you thanks to metadata. It’s possible that your name is still tied to it.

Worse, modifications you made to the document may still exist in the document, even if they are no longer accessible to you. If you typed a paragraph about something personal to you but then deleted it because it could be used to identify you, the paragraph could still be present in the file as metadata.

What Is the Best Way to View Office Metadata?

The techniques to see what metadata is associated to your Word, Excel, or PowerPoint files are listed below. The metadata that surrounds Outlook e-mail is significantly more complicated, and it is outside the scope of this essay.

  1. Metadata can be seen in Word, Excel, or PowerPoint.
  2. With the document, workbook, or presentation you want to check open, perform the following:
  3. In the top-left corner, select File.
  4. You’ll find a wealth of information on the Info screen, including Size, Pages, Words, Total Editing Time, Last Modified, Created, and Related People, among other things.
  5. To access more information, click Show All Properties under that data.

NOTE: Pay close attention to the data in the Template. You could be identified if you utilised a template with your name or a company name in the filename.

  1. Metadata may be viewed in Windows Explorer.
  2. Navigate to the location where you stored the file in Windows Explorer.
  3. Right-click the file and select Properties from the drop-down menu.
  4. Select the Details tab in the Properties window. You’ll see all of the metadata in one easy-to-read list.
  5. All Metadata for Word, Excel, or PowerPoint Files can be seen.

The Extensible Markup Language (XML) is the industry standard for storing metadata in computers. It comes with all kinds of files, including Microsoft Office files.

  1. It’s quite simple to see these XML documents. Let’s do it with a Word document.
  2. Navigate to the location where you stored the file in Windows Explorer.
  3. Make a backup copy of the file to avoid mistakenly corrupting the original.
  4. Select the copy file and rename it by using the F2 key on your keyboard or by right-clicking on it and selecting Rename.
  5. Change the file’s extension from.docx Yes, every Office filetype that ends in x is a compressed XML document file. You’ll receive a warning if you do this. Yes should be selected.

Select Extract All… from the context menu when you right-click on the file.

It will ask you where you want to keep the extracted files and if you want to reveal the extracted files when it is finished in the window that appears. The default settings are adequate. Select Extract from the menu.

You’ll see three folders and an XML file after the extraction is complete. Investigate the contents of these files to see what information is included within. An XML file will most likely open in Internet Explorer if you double-click it.

It will appear strange, but you should be able to decipher the majority of the information. Your name may be found in two XML files: core.xml in the docProps folder, and document.xml and people.xml in the word folder.

How to Get Rid of Metadata in Word, Excel, and PowerPoint

  1. It took a long time to get here, but you should know why if you’re going to do anything like this. Let’s get this party started.
  2. In Word, Excel, or PowerPoint, delete metadata.
  3. In the top-left corner, select File.
  4. On the Info page, at the middle of the page, click Check for Issues on the left.
  5. Select Inspect Document from the drop-down menu. The window for the Document Inspector will appear.
  6. Make sure the Document Inspector’s checkboxes are all checked, then click the Inspect button.

When the Document Inspector is finished, you’ll be able to view what kind of data it discovered. A green checkmark in a circle indicates that no data of that type was discovered. A red exclamation point indicates that data of that type was discovered. The Remove All button is located next to the description of that data type.

  1. To erase all data of that type, click on it. There may be multiple buttons, so scroll down to make sure you get them all.
  2. You might wish to click the Reinspect button after you’ve removed the metadata to make sure it didn’t miss anything.
  3. Save your document now to avoid having to re-enter the data.

How do I know if the Metadata was removed?

To view all metadata in Word, Excel, or PowerPoint, follow the methods outlined above. If you look at the core.xml, document.xml, and people.xml files, you should notice that the document no longer contains any personal information.

You’ll be able to open the file normally in Word again if you change the extension back to.docx.

In Windows Explorer, how can I delete metadata?

If you need to remove metadata from a large number of files rapidly, this is a useful way to use. This can be done in a matter of seconds for two or more files.

  1. Navigate to the file you wish to delete metadata from in Windows Explorer. Right-click the file and select Properties from the drop-down menu.
  2. Click the Details tab in the Properties window, then Remove Properties and Personal Information.
  3. There are two methods for removing data. You can either delete metadata from the original file or create a copy of it that is metadata-free.
  4. Metadata from the original file should be removed.
  5. Select Remove the following properties from this file: then either check only the ones you want or use the Select All button to select all of them. Then press OK.
  6. Make a copy that is devoid of metadata.
  7. This will duplicate the file and append the word Copy to the end of the name. There will be no metadata connected with that copy.
  8. Select Create a duplicate with all possible properties removed in the Remove Properties window, then click OK.
  9. To see the difference, compare the attributes of the original with the clone.

Are you in the clear?

Is this a sign that you’re safe? You can’t be identified from the document now, can you? That’s a difficult question to answer. That will be determined by what you do next with the paper.

Any additional digital processing of the document, such as emailing it, could include metadata into the chain. Printing and mailing the document is a reasonable alternative. Metadata is difficult to extract from paper.

Mark Funk
Mark Funk is an experienced information security specialist who works with enterprises to mature and improve their enterprise security programs. Previously, he worked as a security news reporter.