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How PDF Redaction Tools Can Secure Documents 

 August 16, 2022

Redaction protects sensitive information like names, bank accounts, Social Security numbers, and email addresses from unauthorized access and data theft. If user data falls into the wrong hands, your organization and its customers are at risk. Criminals can use it to launch cyberattacks, threaten users, and profit from selling the information.

In this blog post, you’ll learn why this mistake keeps happening and how a redaction tool can save you from unnecessary trouble.

PDFs Are Not Like Physical Documents

Back in the day, the process was simple, use a black marker to erase text. As technology advanced, the era of flipping through hundreds of thousands of pages trying to black out confidential information slowly passed.

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We then resorted to adding a black box over the content using Word and converting the file to an electronic document using a PDF file editor.

It went well until someone discovered they could access the concealed information by removing the black block covering the content. All they had to do was copy and paste the text to another online PDF editor.

The most significant difference between an electronic document and its physical brethren is its digital footprint, the metadata, which retains all stored information. The metadata is a hidden code containing the file’s creation and revision history, including other information. You can find any information stored on that file using this code, including previously deleted or changed text.

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Before redacting a PDF file, you should know one important thing. PDFs are far more complex than paper files, so you shouldn’t redact digital documents the same way you would paper ones—blacking out text. A fact that HSBC realized the hard way. Well, thanks to their oversight, you now know better.

You must use good PDF editing software for redaction, but before you choose, you must first understand the whole content-removing process.

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Redacting Content from Electronic Documents

Regards electronic files, redacting content means editing and removing selected pieces of information from documents before sharing. The removal ensures that the redacted text stays hidden.

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Sadly, people fail to erase this data and risk losing sensitive information. A common error when redacting a document is covering text using a black block. This method is dangerous as the block only obscures the information instead of removing it from the document.

It’s not rocket science. PDFs use vector-based graphics, which stack images to create a total picture—the text as you see it. So adding a black block means you’re adding to the stack of images.

Another error people make when trying to hide text in a file is changing the text color to match the background. For instance, if the background is black, they turn the text color to black, so the content can “hide in plain sight.”

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If only it were that simple!

We strongly advise against both methods because:

  • They are manual, laborious, and time-consuming
  • Any tech- or internet-savvy individual will gain access to your information without stress
  • Many PDF apps still store information related to or referenced to the hidden text
  • If the hidden content remains present, there might be a way of making it visible again, jeopardizing your privacy and security

A redaction error leaks confidential customer information and ruins your company’s reputation in the marketplace. You also lose existing customer trust, and prospects will rethink their decision to work with you. If the leaked data contains top-secret information, it causes financial, social, or economic damage to you and your customers.

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If you don’t want to end up like HSBC, you should redact content using the four short steps below:

  1. Identify the content you want to redact.
  2. Place redaction annotations over the text.
  3. Review the annotations, apply them, and remove the content.
  4. Rid the document of the metadata, links, bookmarks, and permanent stuff you don’t want just anyone to see.

So why expose your confidential material when you can take advantage of the security offered by redaction tools?

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{"email":"Email address invalid","url":"Website address invalid","required":"Required field missing"}