There’s Diversity Thursday, Full Bore and Flightdeck Friday. Typically exciting or insightfull posts and commentary. This week I am inaugurating something new and different: “Mundane Monday”, a series of tips and ideas on the mundane things that can be banes of our existence. Administrivia (or administerrorism), use of data processing and presentation programs, the side of information assurance that the dear mongering annual training won’t cover, and a host of other normally boring things that yet cause people to say “WTF” on a regular basis. This week I’m commenting on the venerable and universal PDF file.

The Adobe Acrobat Portable Document File has been around for two decades, and been the de-facto standard for distribution of text files for half of that. One would think that after a decade of common use, both in the hallowed halls of government and without, that there’d be a bit more knowledge of it’s usage. Sadly, like most data processing tools there are few educational tools for producers, and even fewer for consumers.

The PDF format allows you to do many things – all of which universalize the document as well as reduce the file size.
– Have a PowerPoint document that runs at too many slides and too many pictures but need to email it? Try printing to a PDF (look under the “Print” option in PowerPoint) and emailing the reduced and unalterable file.
– Have a form that needs to be filled in? Create it in MSWord, then print to a PDF. If you have a full version of Acrobat (not just the reader) you can add fillable blocks on the form.
– Distributing an instruction? Rather than scan in a bunch of images and sending out unsearchable files in either PDF, TIFF, or JPG files, PDF the original MSWord document (yes, you can create a fancy government seal header in MSWord, and embed a signature as well). That makes the document searchable – and if you are really daring you can go so far as to build hyperlinks into the Table of Contents – something I believe MSWord will do if you use the Table of Contents form fields.

So, mundane. On Monday. Any good stories on improper use of PDFs? Good stories on excellent use of this common tool? Places someone should have used a PDF and went with some gucci-proprietary over-costed solution? Or other ideas to talk about on a Mundane Monday.

Posted by M. Ittleschmerz in Training & Education

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  • Aaron Brotman

    Also, PDFs can easily be imported into most e-readers and tablets. In this way, Sailors can carry thousands of pages of instructions and pubs along with them at any time in a lighter package than even the Bluejacket’s Manual. On Mac OS X, any program can print to PDF from the standard print dialog. Preview (the standard viewing and PDF reader app on Mac OS) also allows you to import a signature and add it to PDFs and other documents. And despite Acrobat being far and away the most powerful tool, there are several free options that allow you to create PDF forms and type into forms when the author hasn’t enabled that feature.

  • I think one important issue with PDFs has to do with control of classified information.

    There are many examples of information being inadvertently released because people were not aware that while confidential information was not visible on the document, it was still contained within the document. In some cases, the blanked out spaces only needed to be highlighted to reveal the concealed information.

    One way of ensuring that the document contains no concealed information, is to print it on paper once the confidential information has been concealed and then rescan into PDF.

    I believe that there are specific guidelines on how PDFs should be handled in regards to deleting confidential information from PDFs. Can someone share the link to it?

  • Alpha

    You can also use the redact function in Acrobat quite well, as well as metadata stripping functions.

  • Mittleschmerz

    Fred – I think you are mixing a couple of technical terms and phrases.

    First – I won’t discuss PDFs and classification by redaction. There are professionals involved in that and I’ve not heard of any issues with inadvertent disclosure via PDFs for any classified (including CONFIDENTIAL) information.

    What I think you are talking about is PII – Personally Identifiable Information – and how it is redacted. The “print, line out, scan” option works, but I’ll be looking at the Adobe “Redact” function Alpha mentioned. Thanks Alpha!

  • jettie conn

    Hey ! I loved the specifics ! Does someone know where I would be able to get a sample Cobra Medical Coverage Continuation Form copy to fill out ?