How to Make Your Adobe Acrobat Experience a Safe One

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How often do you use Adobe Acrobat? Personally, most of my work for the past ten years has been done on Microsoft Word. With the odd excel sheet thrown in a few times. I’ve never had to make a PowerPoint presentation. Or compile an Acrobat file. I know PowerPoints are heavily used in almost every business environment. But Acrobat?

Jaimon Joseph

Actually, the .PDF or Portable Document Format files that Acrobat creates, are the best way to view, create, manipulate, print and send compiled text, multimedia and tabular content, in a single file, from one computer to another.

That is, if you want formatting to stay unchanged during the transfer. And your lovingly created file to look exactly the way you made it, when the person at the other end opens it. We’d all hate it if we made our resumes in one style, only to find that it opened on our future bosses computer with totally different font and spacing, no?

Adobe Acrobat software is not the only way to do it, of course. It has close to fifty other competitors, among them names like Ghostscript, Foxit, Nitro PDF and Nuance Communications. But Acrobat is the most well-known brand name.

It’s also the one that most often gets played in the media for security failings. That’s largely because Acrobat Reader, a free version of Acrobat that lets you read files, but not modify them in any way, includes support for JavaScript.

JavaScript allows a document creator to include coded instructions which automatically execute while the document is being read. Hackers abuse those rights to spread viruses and worms through Acrobat. Usually, this takes the form of an e-mail from one of your friends, with an Adobe Acrobat file attached.

When you click on the file, it shows you some harmless-looking content. Meanwhile, nasty little viruses silently tunnel into your system in the background, without you ever knowing. McAfee, a cyber security firm predicts that Adobe software, especially Reader and Flash, will be the primary target for attacks in 2010.

This Monday, October 18, the company will unveil something in New Delhi, that might attempt to address some of those complaints. The PR folks wouldn’t reveal much but they did send me a short write-up, which I’m enclosing below.

But before you go through that, if you are an Acrobat fan and regularly use one of the old versions, do have a look at these tips to keep your computer safe.

To protect against the problem with executables being run, open up Reader and go to the Edit menu and select Preferences. From here, on the left side of the window click on Trust Manger. On the right side there is a check box that you should uncheck. This will prevent Reader from opening non-PDF file attachments. This is a good start, but there’s more to securing Reader.

Still in Preferences, click on the label JavaScript and uncheck that box. Many of the past vulnerabilities in Reader, and there have been several, were exploiting by also using JavaScript. Most people don’t need JavaScript in a PDF. If you open a PDF that has JavaScript you will be prompted to turn it on. Refuse to turn it on and open the PDF without it.

Next, still in Preferences, click on Multimedia Trust (Legacy). This is where you set how Reader acts when it runs Windows Media Player or Flash in a PDF. The default is to always run the multimedia files. Change this to Prompt. The reason for this is that sometimes there are vulnerabilities found in the media players. When the settings for the multimedia players prompt you to allow the media to be played, you can choose not to, especially if you weren’t expecting a media file.

Finally, in Preferences, click on Security (Enhanced) and make sure that the enhanced security is enabled. Now, for the pointers that Adobe’s PR team have sent me:

1.Generally, people take PDF as a mere conversion tool. They don’t realize the power of Acrobat. So an Icon on every system remains a underutilized and subtle enabler of document security.

For instance, an Acrobat version gives the feature of Comparing PDF documents. It automatically highlights the differences between two versions of a PDF document, including text and images, so you can quickly and easily identify what has changed. This could help people in comparing contracts, agreements etc.

2.) Unify a wide range of content in a PDF Portfolio

Combine documents, drawings, e-mail, and spreadsheets in a single compressed PDF Portfolio. Use professionally designed templates that can be branded with your logo and include descriptions to guide recipients through the contents.

3.) Include rich media content in PDF files

Add videos and animations created with Adobe® Flash® software to your PDF documents. With native support for Flash technology, no additional media player is necessary for playback.

4.) Easily create and track electronic forms

Use the new Form Wizard to create forms from paper or electronic documents. Quickly add, edit, and name form fields. Use the Form Tracker to see when forms have been completed and who has completed them.

5.) Synchronize document views

Help colleagues, clients, and partners get on the same page at the same time with the ability to co-navigate documents. To provide clarity and enhance discussion, use Acrobat.com services to enable collaboration on a PDF file. Then distribute the PDF file and walk recipients through it in real time by controlling the page view they see.

6.) Convert web pages to PDF files

Convert complete web pages – or just the portions you want, including or excluding rich and interactive media – to PDF files with improved web capture. PDF versions of web pages are easy to print, archive, mark up, and share.

7.) Compare PDF documents

Automatically highlight the differences between two versions of a PDF document, including text and images, so you can quickly and easily identify what has changed.

8.) Verify PDF standards

Get details on compliance with the new PDF Standards pane, which provides information on PDF/A, the ISO standard for long-term archiving of electronic documents; PDF/X, the ideal format for high-quality, professional printing; and PDF/E, the standard format for the reliable exchange of engineering documentation and drawings.

9.) Launch faster

Take advantage of improved performance. Acrobat 9 launches in half the time of Acrobat 8.

10.) Print reliably

Experience improved PDF print workflows with deeper pre-print testing and tracking, better black handling, and intelligent previews.

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