Tuesday, May 03, 2005

The Secuity of PDF documents and the US Military

The US military recently published a report on the accidental shooting of an Italian journalist and her secret service bodyguard in Iraq.

In an attempt to conceal names, places, and operational tactics, the US military redacted, or blacked-out, portions of the PDF document using what I believe to be some kind of black highlighter tool available in the Adobe Acrobat application. While I'm not exactly sure about the methods the military used to black out the text, the purpose was clear: to keep some information classified.

Unfortunately, the text beneath the blacked-out sections was in fact viewable. A simple copy-and-paste of the source PDF document to a word processing application like MS Word and--voila!--the hidden text becomes viewable. So much for secrecy!

The US military admits it goofed. And with technology being as complex software as it is, I can't blame the military staffers who bungled the dissemination of this report.

According to PDFzone's David Coursey, this whole mess could have been avoided if only precautions and the investment in proper plug-in software were made. It's a great article. Read it here.

I know several people who simply love PDF: it's convenient, quick, and online dissemination is a snap. But, as records managers and archivists in the digital age, let's not be dazzled by technology without making sure it keeps confidential electronic records safe and secure.

The US military's goof-up is our wake-up.

UPDATE: The fine site Boing-Boing ("A Directory of Wonderful Things") has a posting about this story.

UPDATE 2: An Italian blog/website has the actual military document on view!

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