What Is File Sanitization?

File sanitization, or document sanitization, cleanses documents and removes hidden content that could pose privacy or security threats.

File sanitization includes:

  • Metadata
  • Document properties
  • Hazardous code
  • Undetected malware

It ensures that users can only access intended information from the document. File sanitization goes beyond providing the document text and doesn’t openly divulge sensitive information.

Quick Takeaways

  • Data Protection: File sanitization protects sensitive data and prevents security breaches in digital files.
  • Risky Components: Different file formats can contain risky components that require sanitization.
  • Sanitization Process: The sanitization process analyzes file types, strips out unsafe components, reconstructs files, and delivers sanitized files.
  • Effective Techniques: Effective sanitization techniques remove hidden data and harmful content and sanitize file names and file extensions.
  • Legal Requirements: Laws and regulations mandate file sanitization to safeguard sensitive information and minimize data breach risks.

Why Is File Sanitization Important?

File sanitization is more complicated for digital files than printed materials. Even when you cover sensitive information on digitally distributed PDFs, there’s no guarantee others won’t find a way to see what’s behind those covered areas.

Documents often include hidden content that may have gone undetected. 

Hackers or cybercriminals could potentially access this content and use it to steal sensitive data like passwords, personally identifiable information, or financial information. They might also use this information to embarrass or damage a firm’s reputation. 

Proper and thorough file sanitization helps ensure potentially sensitive information isn’t inadvertently or maliciously seen when the document is published or shared. 

It protects the organization from data breaches.

Understanding File Formats and Types

File formats store raw information in a structured manner for efficient data storage, processing, and retrieval. 

Various file formats include:

  • Text (.doc, .docx, .rtf, .pdf, .wpd): Contains only text without formatting and can be opened with any text editor
  • Image (.JPEG, .PNG, .GIF, .HEIF): Includes binary information about images, defines storage and compression
  • Audio (.aac, .mp3, .wav): Stores raw data in an encoded format, uses codecs for compression and decompression
  • Video (.amv, .mpeg, .flv, .avi): Contains digital video data, performs lossy compression, separately encoded and stored audio and video
  • Compressed/Archive (.iso, .rar, .tar, .7z): Stores data in compressed format for easy transport, requires decompression before use

Each format can contain potentially risky components like active content, metadata, and hidden elements that may require file sanitization before storage, processing, or sharing.

Risks and Threats with Files

Unsanitized files can introduce a variety of security risks and threats to an organization, such as:

  • Malware, viruses, worms, and trojans
  • Ransomware and phishing attacks
  • Injection of malicious scripts and code

These threats can lead to operational disruption, data loss, financial damage, legal liabilities, and harm to brand reputation.

The Process of File Sanitization

The file sanitization process with CDR involves the following:

  1. File Intake: Receiving the file, either manually or through API integration
  2. File Analysis: Analyzing the file type to determine known safe components
  3. Component Removal: Stripping out all components not explicitly known as safe
  4. File Reconstruction: Reconstructing the file using only the safe elements
  5. Sanitized File Delivery: Delivering the sanitized file to its destination, free from harmful content

Advanced CDR solutions can accommodate more file types and preserve functionality while ensuring no essential data is lost.

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Techniques for Effective File Sanitization

To achieve effective file sanitization, consider the following techniques:

  • Hidden Data Removal: Identify and remove hidden data, such as metadata and embedded objects 
  • Harmful Content Stripping: Strip out potentially harmful content, including scripts, macros, and executable code 
  • File Name and Extension Sanitization: Sanitize file names and extensions to prevent unintended execution 
  • Robust Sanitization Process: Implement a robust sanitization process that preserves file functionality and integrity 
  • Regular Policy Updates: Regularly update sanitization policies to address new file formats and potential threats

Best Practices for File Sanitization

Here are some best practices for effective file sanitization:

  1. Comprehensive Coverage: Implement a comprehensive sanitization policy that covers all file types and sources 
  2. Automation: Automate the file sanitization process to minimize human error and ensure consistency 
  3. Advanced Solutions: Use advanced CDR solutions that can handle a wide range of file types and preserve functionality 
  4. Regular Audits: Audit and update your sanitization process to address new threats and file formats 
  5. Employee Training: Train employees on the importance of file sanitization and proper document handling procedures

Industry Standards and Regulations for File Sanitization

Various laws and regulatory compliance bodies mandate file sanitization to safeguard sensitive information. Some notable regulations include:

  • GDPR: Allows EU customers to remove their data permanently from business databases, requiring data sanitization and erasure reports for audit purposes
  • CCPA: Gives Californians greater control over their data and requires permanent data erasure when requested
  • HIPAA: Grants individuals control over their Protected Health Information (PHI) and requires safeguarding and sanitizing PHI once it is no longer needed

Proper file sanitization techniques must be adapted and followed to minimize the risk of data breaches.

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File Sanitization Challenges

File sanitization isn’t without its challenges, which include the following:

  1. Threat Metrics Challenges: Inability to gather metrics on eliminated threats due to a non-detection-based approach 
  2. Integration Variability: Varying levels of integration with existing systems, potentially requiring manual efforts and increasing risk 
  3. File Fidelity Preservation: Maintaining file fidelity and functionality, especially with macros, which only advanced file sanitization solutions can assess and retain 
  4. User Experience Balance: Balancing user experience with security, as manual sanitization adds friction to daily work 
  5. Comprehensive Sanitization: Sanitize all files to prevent malware from entering the organization despite potential user resistance.

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Partnering with Perimeter81 can help ensure your files are sanitized and safe from security risks that can waste time and money.

Perimeter81 provides comprehensive network security solutions, including the tools and expertise to implement file sanitization best practices. They help safeguard sensitive data from potential breaches by identifying high-risk websites and preventing unproductive employee browsing

Request a live demo and receive an Amazon Gift Card – request yours today to take a significant step toward a more secure and efficient digital experience.


What is file sanitizer?
A file sanitizer is a tool that scans files, identifies threats and sensitive data, and then removes or neutralizes them to keep the files secure. File sanitizers help protect data, systems, and networks from malicious attacks and unauthorized exposure.
What does data sanitization mean?
Data sanitization is the deliberate and permanent deletion or destruction of data stored on mobile devices or media, making it completely unrecoverable. It ensures sensitive data doesn’t fall into the wrong hands when the hardware is retired, reused, or resold.
What is file sanitization CDR?
File sanitization CDR is a technique that deconstructs a file, analyzes its components, removes malicious elements, and rebuilds the file in a clean, safe format. 
What is file sanitation?
Document cleansing, or file sanitation, removes potentially harmful hidden content from files, such as metadata, properties, malicious code, and undetected malware.
How do you sanitize data?
To sanitize data, use specialized software or tools that remove sensitive information, hidden content, and potential threats from files before they enter or leave your organization.

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