A security problem has occurred in Word

19 January 2015 | Microsoft Word 2013

Context

I downloaded a Word document from a safe location (my corporate intranet). Word does not know that I trust the location, so it opened the file in protected view. So far, so good.

I clicked a link (to a site that I trust) in the file and got the message: “A security problem has occurred”.

Problem

1. I do not know why the security problem occurred. Is it because I tried to follow a link while Word is in protected view? Or is it because the link points to some site that Word does not like? Is it because something went wrong with Word itself?

2. The message does not tell me what to do now.

Overall, the message is useless.

After I enabled editing and thus removed the protection, I tried to follow the link again. I was asked to identify myself with a certificate. I did and the file opened.

Check

I tried to see whether the behavior would be the same with a link that does not require a certificate. I Created a word file with a simple link, uploaded the file on the internet, then downloaded it. It opened in protected view – no surprise. When I clicked the link though, I got a nice message telling me about security and that hyperlinks can be harmful.

Fix

Quick and dirty fix: Change the message text to something meaningful. For example, “Links do not work in protected view. Enable editing and try again.”

Design for humans: show the same message that is shown for non-certificate-requesting links.

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