3 Myths About PDF Security Plug-ins Debunked



Senior editor

Parul Saxena

Chief editor

Last updated: March 4, 2021

Those looking to share documents or ebooks in PDF format that they have paid for will go to any lengths to get value for money – and for some people, this means being able to duplicate PDFs at will. Buyers of PDF documents will, therefore, not hesitate to reproduce or duplicate a PDF if they have been given the ability to do so.

Yet, these documents often contain information based on personal or real research, case studies, and real-world problems.  So, the sellers of such PDFs need to please their users to such an extent that the users will feel as though they have obtained a treasure of knowledge that cannot and should not be copied.  In other words, if someone has not paid for something it can be often deemed as worthless.

PDF security should, therefore, be a pressing concern for those selling such a treasure of knowledge through PDFs.  Yet, since the price of the PDF is often very low (since duplication costs are non-existent), sellers may end up trusting any plug-in that comes in cheap and offers security.

If you feel this type of PDF security solution may apply to you, then here are some common myths about PDF security plug-ins debunked.

Myth #1: Branded Plug-ins can be relied on for the Security

This is the biggest myth about PDF security plug-ins.  Apart from promising extra features, companies that sell or endorse plug-ins say that the plug-ins will also help you secure your PDFs better.

You must understand that plug-ins are usually produced to give extra functionality and features to your PDFs. However, in the process, they end up creating holes in the security.  This does not mean that the manufacturers of the plug-ins deliberately want to create security breaches, but that they sometimes have no control over it. A report by CERT validates this assertion as follows:  

Adobe/PDF products rely on a third-party operating system and these operating systems do not currently restrict loading of multiple applications in shared computer memory. Therefore, Adobe does not make any warranties about plug-ins to Adobe applications or other applications on an operating system that may affect Digital Rights Management capabilities within Adobe PDF products. Electronic content that can be viewed or heard could be potentially copied through digital and/or analog means.”

Myth #2: A Plug-in company with Adobe’s IKLA can be Trusted

A plug-in that has the Adobe Reader Integration Key License Agreement (IKLA) is equally prone to vulnerabilities.  Such a plug-in may also not be certified as fit for purpose. In fact, anyone can write a plug-in for Adobe Acrobat Standard or Professional with or without getting the IKLA.

Myth #3: Plug-ins that can only load in Certified Mode are Safe

Restricting the loading of a plug-in to only “certified mode” does not block a plug-in with a forged signature.  Such a plug-in can practically remove or modify restrictions, such as copying text to either a clipboard or printing; modifying or removing any digital signatures used in the PDF document; and removing any Digital Rights Management security from the PDF documents.

Besides all of the above, when software manufacturers update their applications (i.e. Word, Adobe Acrobat, etc.) plugins generally have to be updated before they will continue to operate.  This is especially true for security plugins that rely on specific components to work.

Solution? Opt for a Good Digital Rights Management Software

A Digital Rights Management software’s only function is to protect your PDF from unauthorized sharing and misuse.  So, opt for a PDF Digital Rights Management software that does not rely on plug-ins for its security because it is hard to evaluate whether you are observing the actions of the plug-in or the host when you load it into the host program.  Therefore, Digital Rights Management software that prevent plug-ins from being loaded makes your PDFs much more secure.

So, do you have any myths about PDF security plug-ins to debunk?  Do you have any questions? Please feel free to leave your comments below.

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