Posted: March 26th, 2021

Metadata and Security Essay

Metadata and Security

Metadata and Security
Whenever an individual picks a book from the book store, they are using metadata. Particular elements attracted the individual to pick the book. It could be the book’s title, the publisher, the cover art, and not the content inside. Metadata refers to data about data (Schneier, 2014). This kind of information comprises data such as the author’s name, last modification of the document, abstract, the date the document was authored, and other information concerning a document. Various office suites such as Microsoft Office and word-perfect office record their metadata in the word processing document, presentation, and spreadsheets (Pesce, 2008). Document metadata can be exposed to the public unknowingly and knowingly through cybertheft. Cybercriminals steal document metadata for various reasons, which they can use to create several kinds of harm. All in all, this kind of metadata information disclosure can be prevented through specific measures. This paper focuses on what cyber thieves can do with one’s document metadata and how to avert metadata information disclosure.
Document Metadata
Document metadata is linked to a text-based file that ought to be invisible on the document’s face. As Pesce (2008) indicates, it is not visible at the beginning of the document, and each document has its metadata. The document may have other features such as graphic images, photographs, tables, and charts with their metadata. Metadata provides a summary of preliminary information on data that can make finding and work with certain data occasions easier. Possessing the capability to sift through the metadata brings in locating certain documents or other data assets in various diverse ways (Pesce, 2008). Document metadata comprises multiple elements such as abstract, title, and author’s name. Metadata in Microsoft word, for instance, contains the file’s size, date the document was created, author’s name, title, tags, and comments.
All kinds of digital documents contain and generate metadata. It could be a song, a video, a word document, or even a PDF document. The metadata generated could be deleted comments, texts, and other content between the author and the editors. This content can be sensitive information that should not be exposed but safeguarded from the public’s eyes and unauthorized access (Pesce, 2008). Various security measures are put in place to secure metadata from exposure as it of much importance.
Metadata lengthens the lifespan of data. The average data lifespan may be short due to missing or unavailable metadata, making the data useless. Development and maintenance of comprehensive metadata improve the longevity of the data. It also enables the recycling of data and sharing (Schneier, 2014). Metadata holds details to data, easy to interpret and analyze as it contains details from the originator, among others. It is also an essential factor in keeping historical data sets for long term data sets. It also enables the reusing of data for various purposes and the long term. Due to metadata’s richness with different information, it is essential to safeguard metadata from falling into the wrong hands (Pesce, 2008).
What Cyber Thieves do With Stolen Document Metadata
Cyber thieves can acquire document metadata illegally through hacking and phishing. According to Karaman and Çatalkaya (2015), they use this kind of data to harm those acquainted with it. For instance, in cases where they obtain personal information and security numbers, they can use the information to impersonate the data’s actual owner. Cyber thieves can sell the data to other criminals on the dark web to the highest bidder. This collection can include millions of stolen data from individuals or organizations. Through their sale, they can make lots of money from the information they stole. The buyers of the data use diversely to facilitate their criminal activities.
Personal information that is stolen from document metadata fuels for stealing the victim’s identity. The cyber-thieves use the data to impersonate their victims. They use the data to gain benefits at the expense of the victim. In other instances, they copy the victim and commit fraud in their name. Online services require a lot of personal information (Vincze, 2016). Also, documents may contain loads of personal information that criminals steal and use to access victims’ credit cards to acquire loans with them.
Cyber thieves can use a victim’s metadata in account takeover. Login credentials found on metadata may be of much importance to hackers and other cyber thieves. They use a victim’s credentials to break into their accounts with payment details such as their shopping accounts. They take over the accounts and handle them in any way they please (Karaman, and Çatalkaya, 2015). The hackers could even change the victim’s passwords, gaining full control of the accounts. This gives them a chance to control the account, including payment details.
Stolen metadata can be used as a target for phishing attacks and extortion. Through the stolen information, they lay targets for phishing attacks. Victims are scammed to give their personal information such as credit card details and security numbers to attackers who mask the scam as legit ((Karaman, and Çatalkaya, 2015). The criminals acquire a loophole to access sensitive information, which they use to extort their victims.
Hackers and cyber thieves may use personal information stolen in metadata to harm companies and the involved organizations. Apart from the personal problem that arises from stolen personal information, the data can also destroy companies (Vincze, 2016). Criminals use the stolen data to target other personnel in the company, tricking them into giving more sensitive information or making payments. Criminals may also gain access to an organization’s network, spy on them, and even infect their systems with malware.
Cyber thieves may also launch targeted attacks where they steal metadata of specific people. This can be launching a revenge mission to destroy individual relationships and reputations. Through the data they steal, they can conduct further hacking to expose more vital information to achieve their desired effects. Such data has resulted in cyberbullying and trolling when certain information gets disclosed to the web. In other instances, cyber thieves may use victim metadata for their malicious enjoyment and pleasures, such as spying on them (Vincze, 2016). Their intention maybe not be harming them but know about their lives and moves.
Metadata Information Disclosure
Information leakage occurs when sensitive information is released to users. The information leaks may land to potential attackers who may launch attacks with the data. An attacker may disclose sensitive information about particular websites’ users and those acquainted with certain documents (Vincze, 2016). Employees and individuals may disclose information without their awareness, which may have dangerous results to individuals and a company. Metadata information may be disclosed through hacks and cyber-attacks and when a document is uploaded to a website or shared on a blog, messaging services, and various online platforms. According to Vincze (2016), whenever measures such as creating awareness and sanitizing documents are put in place, they can help mitigate and prevent metadata information exposure.
How to Prevent Metadata Information Disclosure
The essential way of preventing metadata information disclosure is through raising awareness of the dangers of sharing document metadata. In an organization, employees receive training, sensitization, and monitoring on metadata and the data they share online and on other platforms. Many organizations offer security training practices to their employees and should be provided to all employees as anyone can expose data leaving a loophole for cyber thieves (Vincze, 2016). Content on metadata should be provided as a way of building awareness as part of the existing process.
Sanitization of all documents shared with external parties should be conducted, ensuring that they don’t contain details to help hackers in their attacks. According to Pesce (2008), sensitive and confidential information and metadata are removed automatically through the documents’ sanitization. Erase can be applied in the document sanitization to ensure that the document is free from all metadata before sharing with a third party or any external party (Pesce, 2008). This information includes direct contact information, software numbers, and authors’ details that cyber thieves can use. It is difficult for metadata information to be disclosed to the wrong hands with proper sanitization.
Another meaningful way of mitigating the risk of document metadata information disclosure is through maintaining separate storage for the sanitized documents (Vincze, 2016). Once a document is sanitized, it is crucial to store it separately from unsanitized documents. This prevents the mix-up and release of unsanitized documents to the wrong hands. It is useful for workers to provide information and documentation not present on the websites to customers and public information available to all employees (Pesce, 2008). The separate storage offers its benefits as the unsanitized documents can be saturated with metadata for internal content management.
Policies and procedures should be implemented on data shifting These policies may provide sanitization procedures to be followed in the document sanitization process. Laws should be introduced that documents are only distributed after sanitization. The guidelines should indicate when a document should be sanitized and spearhead the documents’ sanitization. This ensures that whoever is tasked with the procedure follows it to the letter and follow up can be done in case of any questioning required (Pesce, 2008). Specific people should be charged with publication and handling of documents to ensure they go through documents to ensure they are free of metadata before uploading and publication. This can reduce exposure of information and easy mitigation in case of exposure as the source is known as one.
The introduction of clean up tools could also be used as a measure for information disclosure. Just as there are tools used to detect metadata in documents, organizations should introduce tools used in cleaning documents with the highest risk of exposure (Vincze, 2016). These tools are often free or inexpensive and can be applied by organizations to limit the disclosure of metadata on documents. These cleanup tools include the EXIF tool, Microsoft document cleaners, adobe acrobat, and third-party tools. Microsoft document cleaners populate the documents with metadata and remove the metadata (Pesce, 2008). These products are perfect in removing metadata and all personal information leaving them free from exposure.
Adobe Acrobat and third-party tools can also be applied in cleaning up PDF documents conducted during PDF conversion. These tools only leave behind information required in the utilization of documents. An example of cleaning tools is the clean docs that help users send pure and right information by cleaning all metadata. It also helps in metadata management and protection of desktop and mobile users (Pesce, 2008). It is applicable for windows ten and word 2016. It tends to metadata at very high speeds. With the high speeds of cleaning, information disclosure is hard as cyber thieves cannot access the data.
Metadata information disclosure can also be prevented by implementing DLP data leakage prevention. DLP is the act of detecting and preventing the disclosure of information to unauthorized personnel. It is also referred to as data loss prevention or protection. Data loss prevention ensures that data is not leaked and is protected from improper access and mishandling (Piquero et al., 2011). It involves three major activities of identifying the data to safeguard it against disclosure.
DLP also monitors the various channels of data disclosure and acts in the prevention of data from disclosure. When monitoring and controlling the flow of sensitive data such as metadata, the DLP tool is configured with DLP policies. These policies consist of rules, conditions, exceptions, and actions to take on files and files to evaluate, detect, and prevent data leaks (Piquero et al., 2011). DLP policies enable organizations to distinguish what data can be shared and what data not to share. It allows them to define where data can be transmitted, who is authorized to send and received the data, and the means of sharing the data (Piquero et al., 2011). The main intention of DLP is to safeguard specific sensitive information that could cause harm to individuals and the organization if disclosed to unauthorized parties such as cyber thieves. Such information includes personal information and financial information. Tools are deployed in finding sensitive information that requires safeguarding.
DLP tools protect data held in readable digital formation. Data leakage channels are monitored. Sensitive data can be disclosed or leaks through various channels such as blogs, emails, and file transfers (Piquero et al., 2011). Through monitoring, organizations establish how data is being used, understand the potential risks, and detect possible leaks. DLP prevents data from leaking through intervening in the use and movement of data. These actions involve blocking potential breaches if an infringement is identified or suspected (Piquero et al., 2011). Implementation of DLP helps determine the likelihood of hacker activity and takes appropriate measures to safeguard the metadata from exposure.
In summary, there is various information that metadata can reveal, and cyber thieves can exploit this information. Various measures can also be put in place to prevent metadata information disclosure. Document metadata contains information such as personal details, author’s name, and other details. Metadata is data about data that helps in organizing, finding, and understanding data. Due to the richness of metadata with a various information; it is essential to safeguard metadata from falling into the wrong hands. Cyber thieves may use document metadata to impersonate their victims, defraud them, and even launch cyber-attacks. Metadata information disclosure can be prevented through sanitization of documents before upload and separate document storage. Different policies, such as DLP can also be implemented to protect data from exposure. In case of data exposure, remediation can also be done by removing the source through deleting and even cleaning up google.

Karaman, M., & Çatalkaya, H. (2015). Institutional Cybersecurity: A Case Study of Open Source Intelligence and Social Networks. In International Conference on Military and Security Studies (p. 1).
Katz, G., Elovici, Y., & Shapira, B. (2014). CoBAn: A context-based model for data leakage prevention. Information sciences, 262, 137-158.
Pesce, L. (2008). Document Metadata, the Silent Killer. SANS Institute InfoSec Reading Room.
Piquero, N. L., Cohen, M. A., & Piquero, A. R. (2011). How much is the public willing to pay to be protected from identity theft? Justice Quarterly, 28(3), 437-459.
Schneier, B. (2014). Metadata= surveillance. IEEE Security & Privacy, 12(2), 84-84.
Vincze, E. A. (2016). Challenges in digital forensics. Police Practice and Research, 17(2), 183-194.


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