What Secrets Do Your Documents Reveal?

by Kendall Callas

A recent Wall Street Journal article* brought to light the potentially embarrassing details a detective's eye might glean from examining a word processing document file. A document printed onto paper, of course, can yield no more than its visible text. The file from which that document was printed, however, carries information besides the text of the document.

If you send a WordPerfect for Windows document via diskette or e-mail to an outside party, there are three features that might prove revealing:


WordPerfect's Comment feature allows non-printing notes to be inserted into a document, symbolized by a flag in the left margin. As a document evolves, especially if worked on by multiple authors, comments may be used to note thoughts and details or reserve alternative text. If these aren't cleaned up, they may remain in the document and be overlooked by later users — and remain in the file e-mailed to a client.

Remedy: Train users to be sensitive to this issue. Emphasize use of the View, Draft command to make comments obvious; comment flags are easy to overlook when the left margin is off-screen in the View, Page default mode.


There is a dark side to that marvelous invention of the personal computer age, the Undo feature. To aid recovery from errors, the WordPerfect Undo feature allows the reversal of editing changes made in a document, such as typing, deleting, moving, formatting, etc. Ten layers of change may be 'unpeeled'. (Ten is the default, you may increase this number to as many as 300.)

By default in WP 6.x/7/8, these reversible changes are stored along with the text in the document file, so they can be reversed even years later. Consequently, if you use WP 6.x/7/8 to produce a document file given to a client, for example, it could be examined to see what those last ten changes were, simply by using the Edit, Undo feature ten times. If the document in question was tailored from a document used previously for another client, the Undo feature might reveal data from the prior client.

This default setting was changed in WP 9: Undoable changes are not automatically saved with the document; you must select the option if you wish to do so. That means if you use WP9, your secrets are not at risk (if you left the default setting untouched).

Remedy: Set the Undo feature so that it does not save undoable changes along with the text. Check your default setting (in all versions of WordPerfect for Windows) with this command: Edit, Undo/Redo History, then click the Options button to see if “Save Undo/Redo items with document” is selected. By deselecting this option, you will avoid this risk, though lose some convenience.

Document Summary

The Document Summary is a feature that lets you store information along with the document that will aid in document tracking and retrieval, such as subject, key words, abstract, names of author and typist, etc. By default, WordPerfect fills in two important pieces of information: creation date and author name. If a WordPerfect file is given to a client, it might prompt billing questions if the creation date is shown as three years ago, for example, or if the author name shown in the Document Summary does not match their attorney's name, especially if it shows the name of a paralegal or associate.

The author name is taken from the user name entered by you, your administrator, or the installation program into WordPerfect's Environment settings. Check the user name entered in WP 8/9 under Tools, Settings, Environment; in WP 6.x/7 look under Edit, Preferences, Environment. I recommend that the user's name and initials be entered here, as they are useful in macros and helpful in tracking documents.

Remedy: Correct the creation date and author name in the Document Summary for files given to outside parties via diskette or e-mail. To do this in WP 8/9, use File, Properties; in WP 7, use File, Document, Properties; in WP 6.x, use File, Document Summary.

With just a little bit of cleanup, you can easily secure your document files to deliver only the information you intend.

* "Beware, 'Invisible Ink' Inside Computer Files May Reveal Your Secrets", Wall Street Journal, October 20, 2000

Copyright (C) 2001 by microCounsel. All rights reserved.

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