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Getting started with metadata

Understand what metadata is and why it is important to digital security

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The reason, he learned, was that shared photos included metadata, revealing the time and location of wild animals. Poachers had been found to be using social media to illegally wildlife and evade detection by wildlife officials.

What is metadata?

About metadata

Metadata is data about data. It is information about a file (such as a word document, a PDF, a picture, music file etc.) that is stored within the file itself.
In many cases, metadata tells a story just as interesting as the content itself.

Metadata information

This information can include the time and date a file was created, the username of the people who created or edited it, information about the device that created it, and other kinds of information.

Learning from metadata

As a result of this, the metadata in a file could tell someone who created a file, on what computer or device, when, and in what location.

Hidden stories in metadata

Picture metadata

When you take a picture with your digital camera, what happens? If your camera or phone knows where you are, then that information (in the form of GPS coordinates) can be saved in the metadata of the file.

Time and camera information

If your camera knows what time it is, it records the date and time the picture was taken. If your camera or phone has a serial number that may be recorded in metadata as well.

EXIF data

Digital image file formats such as TIFF and JPEG created by digital cameras or smartphones, contain metadata in a format called EXIF (Exchangeable image file format) which could include all of the above information and even a thumbnail of the original image.

Document metadata

Other files such as text documents include metadata too. A text document's metadata, for example, may contain information about how long the document is, who the author is, when the document was written, and a short summary of the document.

Metadata is unencrypted

This information is viewable even if the content of your documents are encrypted.

Email metadata

Emails contain metadata as well. The author of the email, the email recipient, subject line, and date are all metadata. The content of the email, that is, what you are actually writing, is not metadata.

Metadata can reveal your communication

Even if the content of your emails is encrypted, metadata from email communication can be used to identity who you are communicating with and when.


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