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More PDF Blackout Follies

timothy posted more than 8 years ago | from the it's-even-secret-what-they-want-secret dept.

309

georgewilliamherbert writes "The latest installment of "As the PDF Blackouts Turn" hit today, with a U.S. government apparently releasing a redacted version of their court filing in the Balco grand jury leak case which merely stuck a black line over the text, which remains available in the document. As with prior documents, entering text cut/paste mode in a normal PDF browser such as Acrobat allows a reader to access the concealed text. Previous incidents include an AT&T filing in the NSA case." This works with Xpdf and KPDF, too; for KPDF, use the selection tool (under the Tools menu) around the redacted section, copy to clipboard, then paste into the text-manipulator of your choice.

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Maybe (4, Funny)

GmAz (916505) | more than 8 years ago | (#15582378)

Perhaps the people making these "blacked out documents" should be taught a little about Vector Graphics and that a black box is not the same as a sharpie. One word for them 'n00b'!!

Re:Maybe (3, Insightful)

gEvil (beta) (945888) | more than 8 years ago | (#15582461)

You don't even need to go into vector graphics with these people. All you need to do is attempt to convince them that white text is still text, or that black text on a black background is still text. Either way, the text is still there. The only way to ensure that it's gone is to ACTUALLY GET RID OF THE TEXT.

Re:Maybe (1)

HumanisticJones (972339) | more than 8 years ago | (#15582526)

I do believe that the common vernacular of today's youths is that these fellows at the NSA have indeed been "ZOMG pwned liek teh n00bz!!!1"

Re:Maybe (3, Insightful)

Nutria (679911) | more than 8 years ago | (#15582679)

these fellows at the NSA

NSA? Since when does the NSA redact subpoenas for the District Attorney?

Re:Maybe (5, Funny)

Mirlas (760973) | more than 8 years ago | (#15582667)

Maybe we need to go back to good-old fashioned text files.
It was good enough back in the days of wood-burning computers;
it should be good enough now.

Another option to view pdf (1)

b0wl0fud0n (887462) | more than 8 years ago | (#15582678)

Here's a link [spawncamp.net] to see the pdf in html format (minus the black boxes of course).

Re:Maybe (1)

siriuskase (679431) | more than 8 years ago | (#15582827)

Maybe we'd rather they didn't know these things. While it is scary to think of how technologically unsophisticated some of the people in government are, it is also scary to think of how knowledgable they might be. I'm afraid that they might know just enough to cause problems because they don't know enough to anticipate them.

This is why... (2, Funny)

dubmun (891874) | more than 8 years ago | (#15582381)

we should all just write everything down in pencil. Boo to technology.

Or... they could just find a better technological solution. Seems like a no brainer to me.

History repeats itself (5, Funny)

alshithead (981606) | more than 8 years ago | (#15582396)

Perhaps after another dozen or so incidents they'll decide a little training is appropriate for the folks who are doing the redacting.

Re:History repeats itself (5, Insightful)

cavtroop (859432) | more than 8 years ago | (#15582495)

No, more than likely they will just pass a new law, stating that "Copying and pasting of blacked out (redacted) lines is a felony" or somesuch...

Re:History repeats itself (5, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#15582697)

I think that's called the DMCA

Re:History repeats itself (5, Insightful)

richg74 (650636) | more than 8 years ago | (#15582525)

This is in principle a good idea. However, the implementation may suffer from a fundamental problem.

My grandfather used to say that there is one irreducible requirement for training a dog: you have to be smarter than the dog.

Re:History repeats itself (5, Insightful)

squiggleslash (241428) | more than 8 years ago | (#15582703)

Alternatively, perhaps the technology is at fault. If the same mistake is made over, and over, and over again, many user interface experts would start investigating whether it's the UI, not the user that's at fault. The argument is that the mistake is being made because the correct solution is not intuitively obvious.

I'd be curious to know what tool the users are using to black out the text. Are they just exporting from Word but, before exporting, "blocking it out" in Word? If so, how? Are they putting black blocks over text, or setting attributes of the relevent text? If these are the wrong techniques, what can be done to make the right techniques obvious (and the wrongness of these techniques equally obvious)?

I've designed enough crappy UIs in the past and justified them with "It's user error! All they have to do is hit the OK or CANCEL buttons, of course it's not going to work if they close the window instead!" and other such stuff that, with hindsight, was utterly wrong and elitist of me, to know that technically skilled people are not the best judge of intuitiveness. The fact is, I'm a programmer. You're probably technically minded too. The average user isn't. We can't avoid making assumptions about what the user thinks works that are, on occasion, completely, 180 degrees, wrong. What we can do is own up to them and try to determine how to steer the user in the right direction.

Re:History repeats itself (2, Interesting)

alshithead (981606) | more than 8 years ago | (#15582900)

Good point but I think you're looking deeper than need be. The users are probably just not fully understanding what they are doing. The full version of Adobe and Word are both great examples of applications that have so many options, tools, settings, and functions that the average user of these applications probably never even begins to understand 50% of what is available to them.

Re:History repeats itself (3, Insightful)

gEvil (beta) (945888) | more than 8 years ago | (#15582910)

What happens when I actually want to print white text on a black background? Will I have to go through some convoluted process because setting the background as black doesn't actually change the background to black, but rather also eliminates any text contained within it?

Re:History repeats itself (3, Interesting)

squiggleslash (241428) | more than 8 years ago | (#15582948)

If the user interface is designed well, you'll know exactly what to do, just as you'll know intuitively how to really redact text.

If you're asking me to tell you how such a properly designed UI will work, you're asking the wrong person. It'd be interesting to get someone like Bruce Tognazzini [asktog.com] to give their take on it. Right now, all we can be fairly sure of is that the UI isn't working because people are constantly choosing the wrong tool for the job.

A redacted document? Say it ain't so! (-1, Offtopic)

greenguy (162630) | more than 8 years ago | (#15582397)

redact Audio pronunciation of "redact" ( P ) Pronunciation Key (ri-dakt)
tr.v. redacted, redacting, redacts

      1. To draw up or frame (a proclamation, for example).
      2. To make ready for publication; edit or revise.

From dictionary.com.

I certainly hope a court would redact its opinions. I would not, however, hope that it would censor its own opinion.

If we're going to discuss constraints on information, can we please do so in an informed way? It does us no good to self-constrain.

Re:A redacted document? Say it ain't so! (1)

op12 (830015) | more than 8 years ago | (#15582450)

The document was edited (by the second definition you listed) to put a black bar over some text. What's wrong with that? Replace the word redacted with edited and it makes sense: "...U.S. government apparently releasing a redacted version of their court filing in the Balco grand jury leak case which merely stuck a black line over the text"

Re:A redacted document? Say it ain't so! (5, Informative)

The Only Druid (587299) | more than 8 years ago | (#15582629)

"Redacted" is a legal term of art (i.e. it has a special meaning in the legal context).

For lawyers/courts/etc., redacted (Per Black's Legal Dictionary) means:
n), n. 1. The careful editing of a document, esp. to remove confidential references or offensive material. (Cases: Criminal Law 663; Federal Civil Procedure 2011; Trial 39. C.J.S. Criminal Law 1210-1211; Trial 148-153.) 2. A revised or edited document. -- redactional, adj. -- redact, vb.>


The lesson here is this: if you see a word used in a legal context (or any professional context) and it sounds entirely wrong...ask yourself first whether it might have a special meaning before complaining.

Re:A redacted document? Say it ain't so! (2, Funny)

giafly (926567) | more than 8 years ago | (#15582847)

If redacting is the "the careful editing of a document", obviously this wasn't a redacted PDF.

They're correct. (4, Informative)

Kadin2048 (468275) | more than 8 years ago | (#15582640)

Their use of redact is completely correct.

If I am releasing a document for publication and decide to remove information from it, this is redaction. It's editing for publication, which can include the removal of information. It could also include the addition of new information, but that's not what typically happens. Redaction can be a form of self-censorship, but it's not always the same.

Censorship is when a third party, generally a person in authority, suppresses information which is considered objectionable. The 'authority' can be the same as the author (e.g. 'self-censorship'), or the suppression can be indirect -- it need not be editing per se.

It's my understanding that "redact" is used only in reference to written documents that are being edited, while 'censor' is more general and can refer to anything. The terms are closely related, especially in their typical use, but they're not exactly the same. "Redact" is actually a more specific and precise word for what's going on in this instance. We can argue about whether censorship is also going on, but redaction definitely is.

Anyway, arguing about definitions by citing dictionaries is always a bit pedantic, since dictionaries are not authoritative except as a historical reference: they can tell you what a word meant at the time the dictionary was written, but not what it means right now, since a word's definition is determined by its usage. All language is inherently arbitrary: they're just sounds we make or things we write down in order to convey ideas, and the relationship between the sounds/characters and ideas is not fixed, but infinitely variable. If everyone were to decide tomorrow that 'redaction' meant the same thing as 'censorship,' that's what it would mean, and next year's dictionaries would have to be updated to reflect that.

This proves it: (-1, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#15582398)

PDF is good enough for government work.

But seriously: the poster-child of FOSS-monkeys, called Open Document Format, allows the same retarded handling of "deleted" content. (Of course, the astroturfing zealots will quickly reply something like "But, but, but ... it's OPEN and FREE like in FREEDOM and FREE GAY SEX").

Re:This proves it: (3, Insightful)

Svartalf (2997) | more than 8 years ago | (#15582822)

Excuse me, any electronic format, unless it is a bitmap format, will have this problem unless
all the viewers 100% honor the redaction as it's intended. In the case of a bitmap format,
you can burn a black or white rectangle into the original image and then add an annotation
a la TIFF's annotations that contains the original portion of the image that was redacted
in an encrypted format so that it's difficult to expose the redaction- IF you need to have
the redaction exposed. If not, you hand across the redacted image as-is without annotations.

This has NOTHING to do with PDF or ODF at all- trying to make this a connection to these
is bogus to say the least. In this case, I believe that the people doing it used the MS Office
redaction capabilities and then exported the redacted content to PDF, which the export
carried the same sort of redactions across to the other format. What happened is because
someone didn't understand the tools they were using, not because of PDF or ODF.

People...learn...? (3, Interesting)

Elros (735454) | more than 8 years ago | (#15582400)

You would think that people would have learned after the first time around. Apparently not.

--
"And the geek shall inherit the earth."

Re:People...learn...? (4, Insightful)

Billosaur (927319) | more than 8 years ago | (#15582473)

You would think that people would have learned after the first time around. Apparently not.

You're giving people too much credit; as has been noted in this forum many times, the average computer user is not exactly bright and doesn't read Slashdot, so they would have no idea that this is a problem. People just assume that if something appears to work a certain way, it in fact works that way.

Re:People...learn...? (5, Insightful)

jimktrains (838227) | more than 8 years ago | (#15582528)

"Human beings, who are almost unique in having the ability to learn from the experience of others, are also remarkable for their apparent disinclination to do so." - Douglas Adams

Re:People...learn...? (4, Insightful)

gstoddart (321705) | more than 8 years ago | (#15582716)

You're giving people too much credit; as has been noted in this forum many times, the average computer user is not exactly bright and doesn't read Slashdot

You're giving people too little credit. Most people who use computers are probably fairly bright -- they're lawyers, doctors, accountants, and all sorts of things most people on Slashdot can't do. Reading Slashdot doesn't make you bright (in fact, given much of hte drivel, just the opposite.)

But, they expect computers to work like a friggin' toaster, and to them, if the text it blanked out, it's not readable. They're not going to realize the 'black' is a representation of a rectangle in a different document layer, and that the actual internal tree of the PDF still contains the actual text. Really, how could they?

They understand computers by metaphor and analog to the real world. They don't know or care about the actual internal stuff. Since the paradigms have been done to look like the real-world, these people assume that the rest of the things also apply.

Many people use computers who don't have a full grasp on all of their intricacies. However, I haven't looked inside of a TV in 20+ years, but I'm comfortable using one.

Cheers

Acceptance of Risk (4, Insightful)

Kadin2048 (468275) | more than 8 years ago | (#15582875)

While you make a good point, the people who have to use computers to accomplish their jobs, but do not make an attempt to understand how they work (and just treat them like "black boxes") are taking an enormous risk. They are hitching the metaphorical wagon of their livelihood to a team of horses that they don't know shit about.

If you were somebody who made your living in television, but didn't understand anything about it, you would likewise be taking a great risk. You might, for instance, look like a big idiot when you show up to work at your anchor desk wearing a horizontally pinstriped shirt (which looks like ass on TV because of the Moire effect between the lines on the shirt and the TV scanlines). If you had understood the technology a little better, you might not have done that. That's a trivial example -- undoubtedly if you were a TV anchor, you'd learn or be told at some point not to wear a shirt like that without having to learn about scanlines -- but I hope you see my point.

Whenever you use a technology without learning about it, you accept a certain amount of risk. Sometimes, you gamble and win: you just use the technology, get your job done, and nobody's the wiser. You're faster, more efficient, more competitive, you look like a hero to your boss, whatever. But if the technology doesn't work, then you're SOL -- but that's the price you pay for not understanding it. That's the risk you accepted when you said to yourself "eh, I don't really care what goes on inside there."

In the case of PDF, we have a lot of people using a certain technology without knowing anything about how it works, and thus -- like the TV anchor in his pinstriped shirt (or a weatherman wearing chroma-key blue or green) -- you get these gaffes.

I'm not saying that everybody needs to learn about how everything they use all day works, down to the bare metal. Virtually nobody needs to know that, except perhaps people who are doing things that are so dangerous that they can't afford to fuck up. However, people should be aware of the tradeoff they're making and the risk they're accepting when they forgo figuring out the internal details of a system and simply accept it as a whole, on faith that it will always work a certain way. As long as people are aware of that decision, and make it consiously, and accept the results, you can't ask for more.

Generally speaking: faith is a fine thing, as long as you know when you're relying on it. It's when you thought you were relying on something else, and find out that you had nothing but faith, that a problem has occured.

Re:People...learn...? (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#15582848)

as has been noted in this forum many times, the average computer user is not exactly bright

you suck

which? (5, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#15582408)

with a U.S. government apparently releasing a redacted version of their court filing

Which U.S. government?

Re:which? (3, Funny)

TwilightSentry (956837) | more than 8 years ago | (#15582544)

The RIAA

Re:which? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#15582574)

What's with all the grammer Nazis lately? Get a life.

Re:which? (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#15582607)

That would be "grammar" Nazis.

What's with all the illiterate retards lately? Kill yourself.

Re:which? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#15582639)

If you can point out 1 individual who didn't understand my post or the original post, I gladly will kill myself - on the other hand, if you can not I think it is you that should consider finding something better to do. OK?

Re:which? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#15582682)

but which life???

Re:which? (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#15582694)

Hunh?

Re:which? (1)

j79zlr (930600) | more than 8 years ago | (#15582625)

The bad one. Did I answer your question?

Re:which? (1)

TheDreadSlashdotterD (966361) | more than 8 years ago | (#15582861)

No. For a bad one to exist there must also be a good government. Such a thing seems to never have existed at all.

Works in Safari directly (4, Informative)

Deep Fried Geekboy (807607) | more than 8 years ago | (#15582413)

You can open them directly in Safari and cut/paste into TextEdit too.

Re:Works in Safari directly (1)

marmoset (3738) | more than 8 years ago | (#15582497)

Works in Preview, too, of course.

Re:Works in Safari directly (1)

rolyatknarf (973068) | more than 8 years ago | (#15582698)

or save the document to disk then open it with the free Adobe Reader and save as text. It's scary to think that I might be smarter than the officials that do this crap.

Re:Works in Safari directly (0, Troll)

Pieroxy (222434) | more than 8 years ago | (#15582912)

Actually, the simple fact that you think yourself smarter than someone else just because you know one thing they don't makes me think you're probably not the sharpest tool in the shed either.

Re:Works in Safari directly (1)

Nutria (679911) | more than 8 years ago | (#15582711)

You can open them directly in Safari and cut/paste into TextEdit too.

It will paste into any text editor, even vi-inside-an-xterm-window.

works in older acroread too (4, Interesting)

FudRucker (866063) | more than 8 years ago | (#15582415)

i keep an older version of adobe's acrobat reader for Linux version 5.0 and copy & paste in to a text editor works in it too...

i hate the new acrobat reader. some claim it calls home to the mothership(Adobe) which i dont approve of either (spyware)...

Re:works in older acroread too (2, Informative)

Sir Codelot (830933) | more than 8 years ago | (#15582710)

i hate the new acrobat reader. some claim it calls home to the mothership(Adobe) which i dont approve of either (spyware)...

Then you should try Foxit Reader [foxitsoftware.com] . Apart from being free, light-weight and best for everyday use, it also has got a 'Fox' in its name. :)

Even more shocking (5, Funny)

$RANDOMLUSER (804576) | more than 8 years ago | (#15582416)

What's this in TFA about Barry Bonds and steroids? I had no idea.

Redacting right is HARD (4, Informative)

nweaver (113078) | more than 8 years ago | (#15582428)

Redacting electronic documents right is HARD. See, for example, The NSA's guide to redacting word documents as PDF [fas.org] .

Re:Redacting right is HARD (4, Funny)

fistfullast33l (819270) | more than 8 years ago | (#15582441)

From the document:

This page intentionally left blank.

I was going to say, those guys are goooood.

Re:Redacting right is HARD (1)

gEvil (beta) (945888) | more than 8 years ago | (#15582512)

Yeah, except the page isn't blank. Hmmm, sounds like more of that NSA doublespeak to me...

Re:Redacting right is HARD (3, Funny)

Rob T Firefly (844560) | more than 8 years ago | (#15582481)

Turning leaked information back into a secret, that's the HARD bit.

Re:Redacting right is HARD (1)

gEvil (beta) (945888) | more than 8 years ago | (#15582806)

Hasn't the government been doing that with information previously released under the FOIA? You simply slap a "Classified" or "Top Secret" or whatever stamp on it.

Funniest post ever!!! (1)

technoextreme (885694) | more than 8 years ago | (#15582534)

Redacting electronic documents right is HARD. See, for example, The NSA's guide to redacting word documents as PDF.

Im reading the instructions and skimming through them and what do I see?? A bretheren of clippy. At one point it seems like she/he is writing down all the secrets. Either one of two things is going on. The document is a fake or I should join the government because they need all the help they could get.

Re:Redacting right is HARD (2, Interesting)

quokkapox (847798) | more than 8 years ago | (#15582543)

Two things: 1) Why not have a handy context menu option, "Redact selection", available with a right click on the selected object? 2) Awwww, the NSA uses the little kitty cat assistant instead of Clippy. Just like my mom. Until I gave her openoffice.

Re:Redacting right is HARD (2, Insightful)

gEvil (beta) (945888) | more than 8 years ago | (#15582630)

Why not have a handy context menu option, "Redact selection"

Because management and clueless users will demand that there be an "unredact selection" menu option, also. I'll let you sort out the implications of that. Either that or original copies of documents everywhere will have text permanently blocked out by the above-mentioned clueless users and management types.

Re:Redacting right is HARD (4, Funny)

More Trouble (211162) | more than 8 years ago | (#15582665)

Looks like you're redacting that document. NSA Office Kitty can help! First, tell us what you're trying to hide:

  • gov'ment impropriety
  • financial cheating
  • illicit sex
  • other

Yeah, cut them some slack (1)

shrubya (570356) | more than 8 years ago | (#15582567)

You gotta give those poor cubicle folk some credit for trying ... at least they aren't putting Wite-Out on the screen, right?

Seriously though, if the government gets TOO embarrassed about this sort of thing, they'll do something even more stupid, and mandate all official documents to use some proprietary DRM/TPM/HDCP/BVD format that only Windows Vista can display.

Re:Redacting right is HARD (2, Informative)

RobertB-DC (622190) | more than 8 years ago | (#15582700)

Redacting electronic documents right is HARD. See, for example, The NSA's guide to redacting word documents as PDF [fas.org]

At least it's obvious that the folks who know what they're doing, know that MS products aren't the best solution. From the doc:
Microsoft Word XP/2003: Microsoft has attempted to remedy certain issues with Metadata in Office XP and up by including a menu option to remove personal information (metadata). There
is also a tool available for free from MS, Remove Hidden Data 1.0 (for XP) and 1.1 (for Office
2003), hereafter referred to as RHD, that allows batch removal information from Word
documents. None of these will remove sensitive information from the main document; neither
will they remove all metadata of possible concern. And RHD 1.0 suffered from stability issues.
Reliance of these tools may give a false sense of security.

The fact that MS tools are in use at all in these situations -- as opposed to free, open-source solutions that can be customized for high security applications -- may show the ineptitude of whatever management keeps signing off on their purchase.

Re:Redacting right is HARD (2, Informative)

Pendersempai (625351) | more than 8 years ago | (#15582805)

It's not hard; people just have to manually delete (not obscure) data they want redacted. Then all outgoing Word files should be scrubbed of metadata. There are commercial packages, included in many groupware suites, that do this automatically. At the law firm where I work, every single Word file that gets emailed to an address outside the firm is automatically scrubbed of metadata by the server. If you try to save a document with Track Changes enabled, a dialog box warns you. If you try to email a document with Track Changes enabled, several layers of dialog boxes confirm that this is actually what you wanted to do.

The procedure you link to has people scrubbing the metadata by copying all the content of the document and pasting it into a new document. This puts too much trust in the user and does not clear some types of metadata anyway.

Re:Redacting right is HARD (1)

Nutria (679911) | more than 8 years ago | (#15582960)

Redacting electronic documents right is HARD.

I wonder if "print to PDF" would successfully redact a document?

I wonder how long it'll be... (2, Insightful)

TWX (665546) | more than 8 years ago | (#15582443)

...before they are told to just take a print-screen of the document, page by page, then use a graphics program to install the black boxes over words, then import each image as a page into their PDF creator...

Re:I wonder how long it'll be... (1)

gEvil (beta) (945888) | more than 8 years ago | (#15582579)

...then import each image as a page into their PDF creator...

While not a bad suggestion, there is a major problem with it. Many offices will use Paint for this process, with the final image saved as a bitmap. Ever tried making a PDF file out of 8.5x11 inch bitmap images? The resulting filesize tends to be pretty nasty. Of course, there are ways around this, but the requisite knowledge of graphics is far beyond the knowledge necessary to understand that white text is still text--e.g., if you can properly handle this, you can easily handle properly blanking the document in Word.

Re:I wonder how long it'll be... (1)

Rude Turnip (49495) | more than 8 years ago | (#15582765)

That's overkill. Here's how I personally produce redacted documents: Print the document out. Black-out sensitive information with a black marker on the front and back of the sensitive text. Photocopy the blacked-out printout. Drop the photocopy into the sheet-fed scanner and save as a PDF. You're left with a PDF comprised of images of letters and black blocks, no text whatsoever to be lifted.

Disability guidelines prohibit rasterized docs. (3, Insightful)

Kadin2048 (468275) | more than 8 years ago | (#15582935)

I am pretty sure that rasterized PDF documents violate government disability-access guidelines, since they can't be read with screenreaders, braille terminals, or basically anything other than a set of human eyes (or a good OCR program).

They would be a lot better off going through the document in Word (or Notepad/Textedit/vi/EMACS/whatever) and just selecting the regions of text that they want to remove, and replacing it with [-- TEXT REMOVED --] or even [REDACTED]. If they were really slick, I'm sure somebody could write a little macro to replace the text with an equivalent number of characters of whitespace or random text or dashes, to preserve formatting. (Okay, so to really preserve the formatting it would have to be replaced with characters that have the same amount width as the deleted characters; maybe there's a font-set containing various widths of whitespace characters that they could use? In TeX it would be trivial.)

The results would be ugly (but really, were black bars ever very beautiful?) but at least it would actually remove the information, and wouldn't result in an inaccessible, rasterized document.

Copy? Paste? (1)

TheCarp (96830) | more than 8 years ago | (#15582451)

Shit... use the default pdf viewer in ubuntu evince 0.5.2

Just select the text and bang,.... there it is for reading.

-Steve

Nice and secure. Riiiiggght... (3, Interesting)

blcamp (211756) | more than 8 years ago | (#15582452)


Really nice to know that these folks has taken an apparent cue on safe and secure documents from the folks in Redmond.

On a serious note... this is seriously scary. Imagine if the NSA and other agencies are redacting all of their documents this way an passing them around the world to field offices, embassies and elsewhere.

Imagine the implications during legal proceedings here in the States. Yikes.

I've seen something similar already (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#15582587)

Read about "track changes" in Word - I've been given Word documents with the classified bits supposedly deleted; but flip the "track changes" drop-down to "original" and Presto! there it all is.

Posting anonymously for good reason....

blonde joke (4, Funny)

k4_pacific (736911) | more than 8 years ago | (#15582493)

Q: How can you tell when a blonde NSA agent has been redacting PDFs?

A: There is magic marker ink all over the screen!

And these are... (1, Interesting)

jimktrains (838227) | more than 8 years ago | (#15582496)

And these are the people we are suppose to be entrusting our government too? I have never understood why people are so damn lazy that they can't do a little research into what they are doing. People juat want results, not knowlege about what they are doing.

If you want my opinion (or even if you don't...:-p) this is the achelle's(sp) heel of our society today, most people are lazy bastards that just want to get done with somethign without learning anything about it. People just want to finish school to get a degree and do whatever. This is BS. That takes moeny from people like me who want a PhD (I'm an undergrad at the momenet) in a research science (bio, chem, and/or the computational varients of them), but can't get enough money to even pay tuition and buy the books I need. I would more than gladly work for the school to do it, but money is tight and work-study is hard to come by here.

Another thing that pisses me off is incopetence. This article is a good example. Getting a few days to a week of for St. Patriks day is another (who the hell gets of for St. Pat's day?). I wish I had the time to do an indepth study of stupid laws that take up time in congress. Stupid piggy basks attached to laws (one was mentioned yesterday on /.) and just stupid things the legeslator has done. I would love to right a research report and send it to newspapers and my congressmen. I would even GNUFDL it so others could do the same...:-p (you know, since PD doens't exist, another thing....)

So yeah, in conclusion, someone without computer experince was told to do somethign, did it without thinking or asking (my gf would at least ask if she has to do something she's unsure about, then it becomes the attoney's fault, not her's) someone else who should know more.

Re:And these are... (1)

wolenczak (517857) | more than 8 years ago | (#15582608)

Don't mind getting into a PhD, it is not only about money, with your orthography (or careless writting) you would have your teachers all over you the very first day.

Re:And these are... (0, Offtopic)

nyctopterus (717502) | more than 8 years ago | (#15582743)

"Another thing that pisses me off is incopetence." "Incopetence" - is that like when you can't cope?

Re:And these are... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#15582823)

If you want people to do something well, it has to be something they really want to do... not some kind of stupid job, or a job they didn't really want to do... Even if they do it well, it would still be slavery, and nothing more.

There is indeed *a lot* of incompetence, in today societies... We all are confronted, everyday, to dozens of stupid problems, because others aren't doing or didn't do their job well...

It won't change without changing everything else.

Re:And these are... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#15582874)

If you want my opinion (or even if you don't...:-p) this is the achelle's(sp) heel of our society today, most people are lazy bastards that just want to get done with somethign without learning anything about it.
I love how you are berating people for being lazy, yet you are too lazy to take a couple seconds to go figure out how to spell Achilles' correctly even though you knew you were spelling it wrong.

Re:And these are... (4, Insightful)

drc500free (472728) | more than 8 years ago | (#15582982)

"If you want my opinion (or even if you don't...:-p) this is the achelle's(sp) heel of our society today, most people are lazy bastards that just want to get done with somethign without learning anything about it."

"Another thing that pisses me off is incopetence."

Oh, the irony.

The New Way for Gov't Transparency (4, Interesting)

thatguywhoiam (524290) | more than 8 years ago | (#15582505)

I love this idea.

Leave PDF the way it is. In fact, make it really hard to actually redact something, but put a tool front-and-center that looks like its redacting something.

Then - remove any delete capability from Outlook. Trash is fine, but not delete.

Then - configure all Windows machines to be inherently wide open, so that we may all peer into gov't computers. Oh wait, this is already true.

Sometimes I think those in positions of high gov't power should forfeit practically all privacy for the duration of their term. Put a webcam on these fuckers 24/7. Does that sound... draconian? Unreasonable? Maybe. But after losing billions of dollars in things like Iraq military contract debacles, I don't trust any of these people. They certainly don't trust us.

Someone missed the memo (4, Interesting)

Tozog (599414) | more than 8 years ago | (#15582511)

Here's how the NSA recommends redacting files:

http://www.nsa.gov/snac/vtechrep/I333-TR-015R-2005 .PDF [nsa.gov]

Re:Someone missed the memo (2, Funny)

Neil Watson (60859) | more than 8 years ago | (#15582714)

The animated moggie Word assitant really adds a professional touch ;)

Re:Someone missed the memo (0)

ardent (147548) | more than 8 years ago | (#15582794)

Haha! He's using office buddy!

Pretension (2, Funny)

GonzoTech (613147) | more than 8 years ago | (#15582517)

http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/object/article?f=/c/ a/2006/06/21/MNGUAJI4B85.DTL&o=0 [sfgate.com] The two reporters "are the only individuals, other than the leaker himself, who would have personal knowledge of the leaker's identity," Hershman and Raphael said.

Is it just me or do they look a little pretensious?

That's the problem with these powerful formats (2, Informative)

hey! (33014) | more than 8 years ago | (#15582566)

Like .doc, .pdf, and AFAIK the opendoc format.

It's the same old story as with operating systems or anything else: features are usually either a plus or a "don't matter", except when serious security issues are involved, in which case you can't always predict what is benign, whether in and of itself or in combination with other features. Adobe tried to position PDF for all kinds of other things like portable forms and collaboration, but obviously their users are running into the same problems ad MS Word users have with leaking sensitive information.

What there should be is a standard document format for outside release of legal or sensitive documents, that doesn't have any features that could be inadvertantly used. Maybe it is RFT or a stripped down PDF; but something where you can tell the intern to release this press release, and not count on him being smart enough to check for hidden comments and workflow information. It sould be WYSIAYG -- what you see is ALL you get -- and any additional features, other than possibly a small and well defined set of metadata, should parse as an error.

Re:That's the problem with these powerful formats (1)

mcmonkey (96054) | more than 8 years ago | (#15582633)

Maybe it is RFT or a stripped down PDF; but something where you can tell the intern to release this press release, and not count on him being smart enough to check for hidden comments and workflow information. It sould be WYSIAYG -- what you see is ALL you get -- and any additional features, other than possibly a small and well defined set of metadata, should parse as an error.
You mean like plain text (txt)?

Re:That's the problem with these powerful formats (1)

Svartalf (2997) | more than 8 years ago | (#15582873)

Actually, it's not a problem of the format, per se, but one of the tools producing the
results in question and a mis-understanding of what is actually being done by the
people using the tools. In the case of PDF, ODF, MS Office, etc. the type of redactions
done happen to only work if your app 100% honors the concept of a redaction- but it
doesn't mean you can't have redactions. Nor does it mean you can't have portable
imaged documents in electronic format that can't be usefully redacted.

Take TIFF for example. If you redact a TIFF document, you can still have the redacted
content present in the document in a locked by encryption bitmap annotation that can
be dropped on top of the rendering if your app supports the annotation type. If it
can't or you don't have the key to unlock the bitmap annotations, you get just the
redacted document as a rendering- period. The same can be done with PDF and other
document formats, but unless someone thinks about this and produces the desired formatting
and engine to work with it, you're going to keep getting results like this.

Adobe can come out of this smelling like a rose! (3, Funny)

Laura_DilDio (874259) | more than 8 years ago | (#15582568)

Add a "redact" tool to the existing toolbar!

Re:Adobe can come out of this smelling like a rose (1)

ray-auch (454705) | more than 8 years ago | (#15582645)


Kind of kills the market for the third party vendors who already provide tools which do just that.

Maybe those vendors would have an anti-trust case against Adobe for doing it.

Would be ironic given Adobe's anti-trust allegations against MS for essentially doing the same thing (adding a "Save as PDF" tool to the MS office toolbar).

Hush! Hush! (5, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#15582583)

Why are we publicizing this flaw? We have a US Government in power that increasingly wants to peer into the lives of innocent citizens, while becoming less transparent itself in order to cover up deceit, fraud, abuse, and just plain bumbling incompetence. If these Keystone Kops want to believe that they are criminal masterminds, let them, but don't help them actually cover stuff up!

NSA is full of wackos (-1, Offtopic)

Filtrid (984274) | more than 8 years ago | (#15582601)

Hey...... all this talking about the NSA, it gives me the taste for playing Splinter Cell, anyone up ?, if it wasnt for that stupid game, the NSA would be hated...... http://www.bbspot.com/News/2006/05/nsa-dating-serv ice.html [bbspot.com] their already thinking of doing a online dating service themselfs, aint it obvius that their hole plan is to SPY ?, Its not from yesterday that they are ignorant fools!

This frightens me!!!!! (5, Interesting)

waif69 (322360) | more than 8 years ago | (#15582609)

Having worked for the gov't and knowing that some documents that I have signed and worked on should be redacted, this scares the crap out of me. It's not that I did anything that was illegal or "evil" as google would put it, I just don't want the "bad guys" (terrorists, etc.) knowing my name is attached to anything that resulted in their cohorts arrested or killed on the battlefield (also includes CONUS since 9/11).

Normal average government workers should NOT be redacting, the people who redact should be those who know that if they screw-up, they may be screwing themselves or good friends in the process. Have people do it(redact) who have something to lose.

Just my 2 cents.

Re:This frightens me!!!!! (3, Funny)

dinsdale3 (579466) | more than 8 years ago | (#15582783)

I just don't want the "bad guys" (terrorists, etc.) knowing my name is attached to anything that resulted in their cohorts arrested or killed on the battlefield
Its a good thing you haven't told anyone, then.

That's just what's called (4, Insightful)

alewar (784204) | more than 8 years ago | (#15582610)

"Security by obscurity" :)

We have to act! (5, Funny)

Waffle Iron (339739) | more than 8 years ago | (#15582622)

Clearly, these information leaks are a major security threat that is aided and abetted by these renegade PDF viewers. I'm encouraging my representatives in Congress to introduce a "Digital Millennium Redaction Act" that will prohibit the manufacture, sale, discussion or hyperlinks to any PDF viewers which enable the illicit extraction of redacted data from PDF documents. Such viewers are little more than the preferred tools for information thieves, hiding in the guise of "productivity applications". It's despicable.

This law would instruct the FCC to create a program to certify approved PDF viewers; such viewers must make it impossible for users to steal the redacted data in a file, along with technical measures to prevent tampering with the viewers by hackers. Certified viewers will be made available to the public by software companies on a list of government-approved PDF vendors. After it becomes illegal to own a non-certified pirate PDF viewer, these dangerous information leaks will thankfully become a thing of the past.

Seems to be a common occurrence (3, Insightful)

milgr (726027) | more than 8 years ago | (#15582654)

I googled for redacted doctuments, chose some pdfs at random, and found that the text is behind the black bars.

When I started searching, I googled for redact. There were two ads for products that remove the text from the pdf as well as create the black bar. One made it clear that the text would be inaccessible from hackers.

So, why aren't these types of tools being used for all redactions?

Congratulaitons. (4, Informative)

sammy baby (14909) | more than 8 years ago | (#15582672)

Congratulations, Slashdot! The FBI will be along shortly to raid your offices on suspicion of violating the DMCA, the Patriot Act, and probably some other bullshit piece of legislation we don't even know about.

Oh, yeah - it's a no-knock warrant, so put your pants on now.

Re:Congratulaitons. (2, Informative)

botlrokit (244504) | more than 8 years ago | (#15582766)

The FBI will be along shortly to raid your offices on suspicion of violating the DMCA, the Patriot Act, and probably some other bullshit piece of legislation we don't even know about.

/. doesn't host with AT&T [slashdot.org] , so no worries.

Imitation Blonde (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#15582680)

Why do geeks assume that everyone else in the world are idiots?
It is more likely that this "mistake" (wink, wink) was intentional.
Many here are so smug about how much smarter they are than the poor person who didn't understand how PDFs work. In reality, it is the those smug people that come out looking gullible and naive. Somebody plays a little bit blonde, and you eat right out of their hands.

Computers are your friend (1)

Black Parrot (19622) | more than 8 years ago | (#15582895)

...unless you've got something to hide.

Slashdot Censorship Icon (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#15582906)

I selected his face with the cursor in my browser and it turns out he's mouthing an insult to your momma under that black band...

How about less (0, Flamebait)

QuinceyL (984287) | more than 8 years ago | (#15582915)

Yuck, who wants to use kpdf, xpdf or gpdf (or adobe!)

less file.pdf

no cut and paste necessary.

Or even better

less file.pdf > file.txt

You'll probably have to hit Ctrl-C for a second to get less to quit, I couldn't find an option to do this.

n00bs! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#15582967)

What a bunch of two digit wqnkers these Federal bozos are. Not learning from your mistakes is the halmark of an idiot. Haven't they learned from Microsoft Word?

How to secure a PDF document
1. Print a hardcopy of the document
2. Get a magic marker and black out the parts you don't want read
3. Scan the document as an image (no OCR)
4. "Print" the scanned image to PDF
5. ????????
6. Profit!!!!

(MRC="hopefuls")

Clear as Mud (4, Interesting)

Doc Ruby (173196) | more than 8 years ago | (#15582979)

Why doesn't Adobe upgrade their PDF generators to include a "Real Redact" button that actually deletes the redacted data? They could sell it to governments at the usual 1000x government markup rate, and the government would probably still save money vs the fallout from these illusory blackout follies. Neither the government nor Adobe is in the "freedom of information" camp. Maybe the government just refuses to buy an upgrade because that would save money overall.
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