Removing sensitive data from Microsoft Files

Sep 16, 2021 | Microsoft Office Hints and Tips

When we create any documents we add all sorts of sensitive and personal data for all sorts of reasons, some of which we may not even be aware of!!  What we don’t want is to send these documents to clients or others without getting rid of all these things. 

We could remove each item manually but it would be very easy to accidentally leave something behind.  But what if there was an automatic way to do this.  Well, there is!!  The option to Inspect Document is available in Microsoft Word and Excel with a cut down version in Microsoft Visio. 

Where is Inspect Document? 

Inspect document is available in the File menu.  It sits under the options of Info, Check for issues and Inspect Document. 

Inspect document location

What does Inspect Document search for and remove? 

In Microsoft Word the following are searched for: 

  • Comments, revisions and versions 
  • Document Properties and Personal Information 
  • Task Pane Add-Ins 
  • Embedded Documents 
  • Macros, Forms and Active X controls 
  • Ink 
  • Collapsed Headings
  • Custom XML Data 
  • Headers, Footers and Watermarks 
  • Invisible Content 
  • Hidden Text 

Excel has very similar options to Word but with the following Excel specific additions: 

  • Data Model 
  • Content Add-ins 
  • Pivot tables, pivot charts, Cube formulas, slicers and timelines 
  • Links to other files 
  • Real time data functions 
  • Excel Surveys 
  • Defined scenarios 
  • Active filters 
  • Custom worksheet properties 
  • Hidden names 
  • Long external references 
  • Hidden worksheets 

PowerPoint is again similar to Word but has some options that would only be applicable in PowerPoint: 

  • Content Add-ins 
  • Revision tracking data 
  • Invisible on slide content 
  • Off slide content 
  • Presentation Notes 

Most of these options are ticked by default but any can be turned on or off depending on whether the inspection wants to include these or not. 

Document Inspector

Which options am I most likely to use? 

What your document contains, and therefore what you may need to remove will be determined to a large degree by the type of files you are creating and working with. 

Below are the 3 I find most useful: 

  • Removing Document Properties and Personal Information.  Most properties are automatically populated but you may not want your name associated with the document.  
  • Comments, Revisions and Versions.  Comments are often used to add notes to files and revision to record changes that have been made.  These should have been dealt with by the time the document is finalised. 
  • Macros, forms and Active X controls.  Macros are normally used in a document to help produce the format and layout required but would be irrelevant in a finished document. 

It might be a good idea to incorporate Inspect Document into your final checks before sending files to others. 

Further Reading

If you’ve enjoyed reading about the different ways to remove sensitive data in Microsoft, there’s some other blogs below that you might find useful:

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