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Quick PDF security tip

Posted by Michael Bloch in online world (Sunday August 26, 2007 )

A major company found themselves in an embarassing situation recently when information in PDF documents that had sensitive details blacked out became common knowledge.

Instead of removing the text from the documents entirely, the sensitive information was obscured using a highlight function matching the color of the text. The documents were then converted to PDF without further security applied.

It was just a matter of copying the highlighted text and pasting it into a text editor to reveal their contents; which were the company’s strategies designed to take market share from a competitor. Ouch!

Another equally insecure strategy some use is to change the color of sensitive text to white and then convert to PDF. The text then seems to magically disappear. It’s still there and retrievable using the same method if no other security is in place such as disabling the copy function.

In order to demonstrate how easy information treated this way is retrieved; open this PDF document I prepared as an example and follow the instructions. You’ll see it doesn’t take a great mind to crack this ahem, “security”.

Still, it’s an ill wind that blows nobody any good and the company’s faux pas is a good reminder to us all not to employ these methods. If you don’t want someone to see certain info, remove it entirely.


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