Watch that Word file!

by brian d foy

Chris Albritton of Back To Iraq does a bit of investigative journalism using the revision tracking features of a Word document. He can see the changes to the Mehlis report on the assassination of Rafik Hariri. Additionally, he can match up the time of the revisions to the time Special Representative Mehlis met with UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan. Several names were redacted, but it's too late for that because the Word document Chris got still has the revision history, so it still has the names.

He's posted the relevant section in his entry Names Deleted from Mehlis Report.


2005-10-25 06:08:33
Hidden Data Tools
It seems to be a user education problem as Microsoft has recently started providing tools for these scenarios: the Hidden Data Removal Tool (
?FamilyID=028c0fd7-67c2-4b51-8e87-65cc9f30f2ed&DisplayLang=en) and the Redaction Tool (
2005-10-25 07:33:25
Hidden Data Tools
I wouldn't call it a user education problem. That anyone would have to do more work to delete something they've deleted seems more like a design issue.
2005-10-25 09:34:18
Hidden Data Tools
Yeah, you're probably right about the design flaw thing but I guess there are reasons for it (although I can't think of any offhand since I don't often use Office). Education should really be along the lines of "never trust Mirosoft Office", particularly when dealing with the public. I can remember back to Office 95/97 when your MAC address was embedded into Word documents.
2005-10-26 02:42:47
Track changes can be useful
I recently re-wrote a technical specifications document that forms part of a contract with a customer. They want to be able to easily see what changes I've made to the document so that they can approve the changes, so i did it in word with Track Changes switched on.

This is common for revisions of legal documents, and many other kindsc of documents, so being able to keep and view changes including deletions is valuable.

Of course there are unintended consequences, as this article shows. I am surprised Microsoft hasn't had a function for cleaning up a document in this way in Word for so long though.

The best solution to problems like this is to publish in a non-editable format such as PDF, which of course won't retain the edit history. I realy don't understand why reports such as this are published in editable form at all.