Protect Against Snoops

BY STANLEY ZAROWIN

Q. I recently read about someone who sent a client a sensitive Word document that had been edited many times using Track Changes and Comments . Even though the changes had been erased before the memo was sent, the recipient was able to recover them and read every comment. That’s very scary. How can I prevent it?

A. Yes, it is very scary—especially since the client was even able to see the names of the individuals who made the changes and comments. However, there are steps you can take to be sure that your erasures remain permanent.

If you don’t know how the Track Changes tool works, look at the screenshot below in which I enabled the function by clicking on Tools , Track Changes and typing a change in the text ( yes, the story is true ). Then I added a comment ( I’m relieved to learn I can permanently delete erasures ). Next, after reviewing the change and my comment (see screenshot below), I either approved or rejected them and then closed the tool with the expectation that my changes and comments were permanently erased.

The good news is that Microsoft has an add-on program ( Remove Hidden Data ) that can permanently remove hidden and collaboration data in Word, Excel and PowerPoint. To download the program go to http://office.microsoft.com/officeupdate/category.aspx?CategoryID=CD010225731033&CTT=4&Origin=C .

As a practical matter don’t run Remove Hidden Data until you’re ready to publish or send the sensitive file to its intended recipient because it will permanently erase all collaboration material. To engage it, open the target file and click on File and Remove Hidden Data . That will evoke the screen below, which will tell you to enter a file name for the new, cleaned-up version of your original file.

In the unlikely event the Remove Hidden Data command is missing in the drop-down menu, under File click on Tools , Options and the Security tab . Under Macro Security , click on Macro Security , Trusted Publishers and check the Trust all installed add-ins and templates and then click twice on OK .

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