Hacking a PDF?

Subject: Hacking a PDF?
From: "Hart, Geoff" <Geoff-H -at- MTL -dot- FERIC -dot- CA>
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Fri, 12 Jan 2001 09:40:03 -0500

Sonia Bayneis <<... part of MarCom at an insurance company. From time to
time, we post .pdf files on our intra and Internet sites -- for example, to
show online collateral that a customer might want to pass on to employees.
Our hyper-cautious legal eagles (probably related to the above Big Bro) want
customers who access the pdfs to sign some kind of hold-harmless agreement
that they will not alter these files or hold us liable for any such

Yes, you can hack a PDF file; somewhere in my archives I have bookmarked a
site that provides all kinds of helpful password crackers for common file
formats (including Word). No, I'm not going to post that here or privately.
<g> But let's say for the sake of argument, someone wants to change the PDF
to read "the insurance company is liable for all problems, even those caused
explicitly by consumer attempts to defraud the company". Someone who really
wants to go to this trouble and can't figure out how to crack your password
will print and scan the document (via a screen capture if necessary) or
retype it from scratch, and return it to you laid out to be superficially
identical to your original form. That's no different from traditional
printed contracts; they can even forge your signature on those. The only
relatively foolproof way to protect the files is to not make them available
to the public, and to have them come in to your office to sign them.

But a PDF file is generally safe for all reasonable purposes, provided you
pick a good password.

--Geoff Hart, FERIC, Pointe-Claire, Quebec
geoff-h -at- mtl -dot- feric -dot- ca
"User's advocate" online monthly at

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