PDF or portable document format runs the world, especially the business world. The most critical work happens using PDFs, which is one of the most reliable ways to exchange and share documents via email or messaging apps. Today, the PDF is an open standard, and the International Organization for Standardization maintains it. These documents contain buttons, links, form fields, business logic, video, and audio. You can sign these documents electronically and easily view these files on macOS or Windows using the free Acrobat Reader Software.
While it is a reliable and universally-used file format, PDFs tempt malicious users. Unfortunately, PDFs are not without weaknesses, and the reasons why this format is attacked are explained below.
Before that, if you wonder is PDF safe and whether you should continue using this format, the answer is yes. You have to ensure the PDF file is free of viruses and malware before downloading it to your device. You can do so in several ways. For instance, you must never download PDFs from unreliable sources and always be wary of email attachments sent by unknown senders. You must also scan the attachments and documents before downloading them to your device. Also, you can install antivirus software on your computer to ensure periodic scans are being carried out in the background and your system is protected.
Let’s examine why PDF files are vulnerable and can be easily manipulated by malicious users.
There’s been an increase in spam attacks in recent years, and these attacks have demonstrated a way of exploiting the nature of PDF documents. Until recently, these files were never caught at the anti-spam gates. While several anti-spam products are always on the lookout to check these documents, this file format containing spam has made it to several inboxes. So, it would be best if you were wary of spam files and always check the documents, so they don’t deliver viruses, Trojan or malware to your computer.
These files are perfect for spreading malware and attacks because they are ubiquitous. Many documents are found across the web, and they are used for business and personal purposes.
The PDF file format is the secured standard format, and several users and businesses use it. Hackers can accomplish their tasks easily by transforming users into malware executioners. The attacker’s work is done when you think the attachment is safe and download it.
The malware of the attacker does not only sit within the file. It is embedded through the hyperlinks within the document; therefore, when the file is downloaded or opened, the malware infects the computer.
PDF documents are manipulated and vulnerable because of how specific web browser apps handle the URIs. Those websites that host several files are cohorts in the attack, but they are unaware of it. For instance, XSS uses a flaw in the web browser that triggers an unintentional execution of code as part of the query string contained within the URL. While browsers of all kinds contain this URI validation flaw, the single flaw can put all those users with those browsers at risk.
Important to government agencies and business industries, PDF usage goes hand in hand with the credibility and ubiquity of the format. The format can transmit, view and store data between databases that hold confidential and sensitive information. Hence, the format is chosen by attackers for their malicious intent.
When it comes to emailing PDF files, users often encounter issues. When you receive these documents via email, you will have to store them before opening them in the specific viewer. Attackers utilize this characteristic process to carry out their attacks.
The lack of PDF security settings makes a huge difference and makes this format vulnerable to attacks and malware. The file format can be manipulated without personalizing the file usage restrictions, high encryption strength, passwords and digital signatures. When protecting your document, the primary one-step PDF creation is not enough.
The reason why attackers attack this file format is that most people do not update their PDF software. So, it becomes easy for the attackers to find weak spots in the software and manipulate it to their favor.
So, this is how PDF file format is vulnerable to attacks and malware. You must ensure the files are thoroughly checked. Therefore, before downloading or sending any file, ensure they are thoroughly scanned and checked for malware or viruses.