Doc security?

Subject: Doc security?
From: "Hart, Geoff" <Geoff-H -at- MTL -dot- FERIC -dot- CA>
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Thu, 16 Nov 2000 09:08:50 -0500

Damien Braniff <<... was asked by our legal bod about ways to tie down a
contract so that it couldn't be tampered with (at least easily!). I asked
about PDF forms and, from the replies I got, suggested a possible
solution.>>

The question is just how airtight you want or need your security to be. PDF
provides reasonable security, but several password crackers are available on
the Web for the PDF format (no, I won't provide the URL... even assuming I
could find where I've stashed it! <g>), and it's relatively trivial to print
any document (via screen captures if necessary), run it through OCR
software, change what you want, and recreate the PDF. Where there's a will,
there's a way. One thing you might want to look into is "digital
signature/digital certificate" technology, which provides a more robust
solution for legally binding contracts. The technology has been reviewed
recently in PC Magazine (in the e-business section, I believe, and within
the past 3 months?); further advice beyond that, I can't provide, as I only
understand the overall details, not the minutae you'd need to actually
implement such a system.

<<Main instructions to sales people are: 1 Add License number to Header -
using sequential numbers as
allocated to each salesperson 2 Insert Customer Name & Address on page 1
3 Add bolt-on Clauses as necessary
4 DO NOT make any edits to the text without prior approval>>

One thing you might want to consider doing instead is to implement this via
a Web-based form, combined with the aforementioned digital signatures. Since
the data provided by the sales staff can't be entered into your corporate
database other than via the Web page's Submit button, the sales person can't
modify the text of the form and still retain the ability to upload the
license number etc. to your database. You'll need a programming geek who can
deal with database integration plus the digital signatures, but that
shouldn't be too hard to find.

<<3 is the new requirement and I can see no nice way of doing it using
PDF.>>

Again, the Web-based form is the way to go: you list all the clauses with
checkoff boxes, and all the user needs to do is select the relevant clauses
(or deselect the irrelevant ones). If you have to go with PDF, you might be
able to achieve this using Acrobat Exchange: all the options would be
included on their own pages, each with appropriate protection, and the user
would delete the pages that aren't required.

<<Could possibly be done using the Form fn in Word with MOST of the doc
protected (in sections) and the bolt-on clauses either hidden/visible (aim
is to print them out) but I'm not sure about the security.>>

Word's security is even worse than Acrobat's (I seem to recall reading about
a way to do "Save as" and create a version of a protected document without
password protection); Acrobat at least permits a really long password. But
password protection isn't the best choice if you really are concerned about
legal issues.

--Geoff Hart, FERIC, Pointe-Claire, Quebec
geoff-h -at- mtl -dot- feric -dot- ca

"Technical writing... requires understanding the audience, understanding
what activities the user wants to accomplish, and translating the often
idiosyncratic and unplanned design into something that appears to make
sense."--Donald Norman, The Invisible Computer

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