No PDF Files Please
Posted by Laurel L. Russwurm on May 21, 2010
It is a fallacy that PDF files maintain the integrity of the information.
The idea behind PDFs was that they would freeze your digital document so that it can’t be tampered with.
That’s simply not true.
Except from almost the first moment PDFs appeared in the world, people figured out how to deconstruct them so that they COULD tamper with them.
After all, forgery has existed for as long as we’ve had documents. But the idea that PDFs are secure has taken hold. But it is not true.
Worse, PDFs are a pain to use. For a long time I thought that PDFs were proprietary software because you need a special reader to read them. I have this idea that the only person who determines what can be on my computer is me. Because it’s my computer. If you want me to have specific software on my computer, you can buy me a computer, and I’ll put the software you want on it. But as long as I pay for my computer I own it.
Yet government offices lock information I want or need — information that I am entitled to — into PDF files. And school boards. Even my bank wants to replace statements with PDFs. Well. No.
Because even though I know there is software to take PDFs apart I don’t have it because I am not planning on forging anything. I’m looking to get information. But before I can get it, I have to install a PDF reader on my computer.
Even so, PDFs are miserable to read on a computer screen, because computer screens are in Landscape mode while PDFs are locked in Portrait mode. Hello. PDFs are designed to be read on paper. The format does not translate well to computer screens which are currently more and more commonly in wide screen landscape format.
If you read it on your screen you can’t just scroll through the document. You scroll down the first page. But before you can go to the second page you have to scroll back to the top to be able to click the arrow. The only civilized way to read a PDF is if you print it out. Not exactly a good paperless solution, eh?
PDFs were designed by Adobe, and the idea was supposed to be that you had to get an Adobe Reader in order to read them. That’s what made them proprietary. Eventually Adobe made PDFs partially open source, which means that programs like Open Office can now create PDF documents. And you can use other readers to read PDFs. That’s what I do when I am forced to open one.
But PDF files are nowhere near universally accessible because it is necessary to have a PDF Reader to read them. That is a huge barrier to accessibility. It doesn’t have to be an Adobe Reader, but only the Adobe Reader accesses an Adobe PDF perfectly. Recently I was given a colour PDF, but because I don’t use the Adobe reader, it will only print for me in black and white.
So just as an ordinary person who uses a computer, I hate it when information I need is locked up in a PDF.
But recently I’ve learned that PDFs aren’t just awkward and difficult to use they are insecure.
Putting information in PDFs does not make the information secure. PDF Files and Adobe Readers are actually dangerous to our computers.
I will not have an Adobe Reader on my computer because of the security problems inherent in the Adobe Reader. Adobe itself tells us that:
“a critical vulnerability (CVE-2010-0188) has been identified that could cause the application to crash and could potentially allow an attacker to take control of the affected system”
There are always new warnings because the Adobe Reader is insecure.
And there are others who advise against PDFs…