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Software maker exposes hidden data

New Workshare Web site highlights the dangers of metadata buried in Microsoft Office documents.

Workshare, a specialist in collaboration software built around Microsoft Office applications, is aiming to alert businesses to the danger of hidden data lurking in their documents.

The company on Monday launched, a Web site with information on the dangers posed by hidden metadata in documents. The site includes Metafind, a downloadable tool for automatically analyzing and exposing metadata in documents posted on a given Web site.

"There's up to 25 different types of hidden metadata that exists in Microsoft documents," said Matthew Brown, Workshare product manager. "And the more documents get passed around, the bigger the risk becomes."

Metadata, hidden information that can specify everything from a document's creator to deleted text, has become a growing risk for companies. British Prime Minister Tony Blair was embarrassed last year, when documents meant to bolster his cause for intervention in Iraq contained metadata with information that contradicted the official position. After examining metadata in a legal document of Linux adversary the SCO Group, CNET learned that SCO originally planned to sue Bank of America.

Word and other Office applications include tools for removing such metadata before a document is shared with others, but those capabilities are used inconsistently at best, Brown said. "It's something where it really needs to be part of company policy--how you deal with metadata," he said. "If you don't create and enforce a good policy about cleaning up after yourselves, there's a real risk."

Workshare includes metadata removal tools in its namesake product, an application intended to enhance a company's ability to share and manage Office documents. The company also sells a separate product, Workshare Protect, which automatically strips metadata from documents before they leave a company's network.

"Our vision is to encourage collaboration around Microsoft documents--but to do it securely," Brown said. "Collaboration is a very important part of today's working practices, but it does present some new risks."