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IT Service Status
IT Service Status

Using Sensitive Data Search Tools

The critical importance of securing sensitive data and personally identifiable information (PII) on University desktop computers calls for technical support staff to be aware of possible preventative and remedial measures.

Though complete data security relies on a multitude of factors, technology-oriented tools can be used to reduce the risk of exposure. The programs and processes outlined within this guideline may be able to identify and protect PII that resides on personal computers and servers.

NUIT has reviewed several open source and vendor supported applications that are designed to identify occurrences of Social Security Numbers (SSNs) and other types of sensitive data. No single vendor provided a comprehensive solution, and the best results were achieved when products were used in combination with others.

In addition, use of these tools is often time and CPU-intensive, requiring a day or more of processing time. Technical support staff should also have knowledge of how to create searches with wildcard and other character strings for SSNs and credit card numbers. A short reference about character string searching is available from the IT Information Security Office.


Tools should be used by technical support staff only. If your department is interested in conducting a search for sensitive data, NUIT's Distributed Support Services can provide guidance in this process.

These measures may be especially relevant for users who frequently come in contact with social security and credit card numbers, such as business managers, lead administrative personnel, and accounts receivables staff.

Policy Statement:

The following PII data search tools have been tested by NUIT, and may provide preventative and remedial measures for locating PII on University desktop computers.

For every tool, make sure that it checks all possible files that may contain sensitive data, and be aware that PDFs and ZIP files may cause problems, though these formats may contain PII data. Further, plan for at least a day to collect and examine data on a loaded machine.

Commercial Solutions

  • Spirion   *** Recommended product ***
    Can be run both on a single target and on a central management system (agent based). Discovers and classifies data, custom reporting, roll based access control, real-time discovery, etc. Kellogg School of Management is a current user on campus. Reduced Internet2 pricing is available.

    Applicability: Windows, Mac OS, Linux 
  • DTSearch
    Commercial product for searching of text in a wide range of on and offline data types; both desktop and network searching capabilities using the Spider engine. Enterprise and developer products are available for purchase. For developers, APIs for .NET, Java, and C++; SDKs for many platforms are available. Can be used for any type of data searching.

    Applicability: Windows, UNIX, Mac OS (Beta)
  • PowerGREP
    Sophisticated grep tool for Windows that allows the user to configure the search tool with regular expressions. Works only on a per-seat basis, no network/enterprise level application, no developer options.

    Applicability: Windows 
  • FileLocator Pro by Mythicsoft
    Capability to search hundreds of file formats, including PDFs, zip files, PSTs, etc.; uses Boolean logic, multi-thread searching, relative date/time searches, search tab navigation, etc.

    Applicability: Windows

Open Source/Freeware

  • EasyFind
    Finds files and folders by name or content using advanced Boolean operators, wildcards, and phrases. It does not require indexing, is fast, and uses very little memory. Also shows previews and gives you many other options to work with. Does not search text or PDFs.

    Applicability: Mac OS
  • Agent Ransack by MythicSoft
    Agent Ransack is a free software program for finding files on your PC or network drives. It is a 'lite' version of FileLocator Pro and is a free for both personal and commercial use. Limited text and PDF search capabilities.

    Applicability: Windows

Important Dates

Policy Review Date:

  • December 2016
  • November 2015
  • July 2012

Original Issue Date:

  • August 2006

Revision Dates:

  • November 2015, July 2007