In a series of tips about how to use open source intelligence (OSINT) for crime investigations, Neil Smith explains what data is hidden in word documents.
With all prosecution files moving over to become digital, officers should be aware of the problems and investigative opportunities that arise through digital office documents.
When you hand write a statement then that’s all there is. But when you type a statement using something like Microsoft Office or Word, then there is a lot more to it than what you see when you print off a copy.
Some examples of Meta data that Microsoft state may be stored within your documents include:
* Your name
* Your initials
* Your company or organisation name
* The name of your computer
* The name of the network server or hard disk where you saved the document
* Other file properties and summary information
* The names of previous document authors
* Document revisions
* Document versions
* Template information
* Hidden text or cells
* Personalised views
This may not seem troublesome to you but that could be because you do not actually understand it.
Do you always start a fresh blank word document when you write a statement or operational order? If you are honest you will say no, as I don’t – I just open up a new document from the last one I wrote and then change the details. We all do it all of the time.
The trouble is that Meta data can include previous drafts and alterations. So those first drafts of a statement that didn’t quite fit in with what your colleagues said in their statements can now be resurrected.
The previous operational orders which you were hoping to keep secret can be read because they are under the one that was released in disclosure.
You can also identify where on a hard drive a file has come from, so if you save letters to solicitors in a folder called “fobbing off idiots” or something similarly offensive, then it might be discovered and be used to discredit you and your credibility.
Whilst you may think this is fairly farfetched, it is worth being reminded that a couple of years ago the Falkland Islands newspaper upset the Argentinians by giving a photo of President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner the file name of “bitch”.
I occasionally have to request copies of documents from people, be it from legal departments or as a result of Freedom of Information requests and I always ask for digital copies to be sent as it will save them trouble of printing things off and having to pay for postage.
Obviously the real reason I want the digital copies is so I can check them all for Meta data, which might help me in my enquiries, and it does frequently.
If I do this to them then you should consider that the press and lawyers might well do it to you.
Something like http://www.informatica64.com, which is listed on the favourites page under hidden details, shows the same information as using Foca which is listed on the software page of my website http://www.uk-osint.net. This is good at locating hidden data including the email address of the person who emailed it out of an organisation, useful if dealing with leaked documents.
So Meta data should be of interest to you, it is to me as an investigator.
Neil Smith is an investigative researcher and trainer in Open Source Intelligence Techniques, with a website at http://www.uk-osint.net/ .