YourABA November 2011 Masthead

Is my document secure enough?

Is converting documents to PDFs enough to eliminate the metadata contained in them? According to legal technologists Sharon Nelson, John Simek and Michael Maschke, the answer is no. Converting documents to PDF removes most of the metadata, but it doesn’t eliminate all of it.

In their article, “Protect Yourself and Your Clients,” for the Young Lawyers Division 101 Practice Series, Nelson, Simek and Maschke say that “PDFing is regarded as the poor man’s metadata scrubber,” and advise using metadata removal software for a complete solution.

Using such software removes metadata from a number of document types. Nelson, Simek and Maschke recommend Metadata Assistant, which works seamlessly with Microsoft Office, and can be purchased for less than $90 for a single license.  “Attorneys love the fact that it’s an automated process complete with an ‘idiot box’ that asks if you’re sure you want to send an attachment without cleaning,” share the authors, noting its ease of use.


Metadata removal: Recommended by the ABA Legal Technology Resource Center

A metadata removal tool or scrubber filters and cleans metadata from documents. It can be an add-on that integrates with existing programs or an extra step taken after document creation before the final document is shared or stored. The following are several metadata removal tools and techniques to consider:

When looking at a metadata removal tool, consider its compatibility with your entire office suite, whether you want to treat files individually or many at a time (batch), and whether metadata removal should be automatic or require user intervention. The tool’s compatibility with existing document management systems,  ease of use and licensing fees should also be considered when evaluating its true cost.


Beyond removing metadata, Nelson, Simek and Maschke also recommend protecting documents from being altered, as users lose control over their documents when sending them electronically. Both Microsoft Word and Adobe Acrobat have tools to help.

“In Microsoft Office, when saving a file, within the ‘Security Options’ menu box, a user can require a password to open and modify the file,” they explain.

For Adobe Acrobat, the security settings are in the “Security” option within the “Document” section, located on the main tool bar. Acrobat offers more robust security than Office, including a password requirement that secures PDFs from being opened and modified, as well as restricts both printing and edits, and determines whether or not any content may be copied.

“It’s prudent to get into a habit of securing documents with the necessary settings before sending them,” advise the authors. “This is definitely a scenario where an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”

Nelson, Simek and Maschke are from Sensei Enterprises, Inc., a legal technology and computer forensics firm in Fairfax, Va. They are the authors of the 2011 Solo and Small Firm Legal Technology Guide.

The 101 Practice Series is a collection of online resource for new lawyers, covering basic training in both substantive and practical aspects of law practice. The series is developed by the Young Lawyers Division, and includes a 201 series.

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