8 Steps to Redacting a PDF File

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Hiding Information that Should Not Be Public

Redacting a pdf file allows you to hide sensitive information while keeping your document's formatting. Redaction can and should be used to cover information such as Social Security Numbers, competitive information and even images. In a properly redacted file, formatting elements such as spacing remain unchanged, while classified information appears as a black box.

Sounds easy, right? Just highlight the text, change the highlight color to match the font color and everything disappears.

Redacting is Not as Easy as it Looks

Or not. The document I've just described hasn't been redacted at all. The text is still in the document. Anyone with the most basic knowledge of word processing (and who doesn't have that knowledge today?) will copy your "redacted" information, paste it into a text file and view your classified information in all its naked glory.

An Example of a Bad Mistake

You'd be surprised how many people make this rookie mistake when publishing sensitive information. When the Transportation Security Administration posted their Screening Management Standard Operating Procedure Manual on the FBO.gov website as part of a bid package. The manual, which provided details about the agency's airport screening procedures, was quickly pulled. But not before it was picked up and posted on sites such as Cryptome and Wikileaks.

The SOP contained the following footnote on every page:

SENSITIVE SECURITY INFORMATION WARNING: THIS RECORD CONTAINS SENSITIVE SECURITY INFORMATION THAT IS CONTROLLED UNDER 49 CFR PARTS 15 AND 1520. NO PART OF THIS RECORD MAY BE DISCLOSED TO PERSONS WITHOUT A "NEED TO KNOW," ... UNAUTHORIZED RELEASE MAY RESULT IN CIVIL PENALTIES OR OTHER ACTION.

Whoever posted the pdf document thought they were exercising due diligence by drawing little black boxes over the sensitive parts. Congress wasn't impressed.

8 Steps to Redacting A PDF

Here a 8 steps to redacting a PDF, whether your on a PC or on a MAC.

In Acrobat Pro DC:

  • Choose Tools Redact.

    The Redact toolset is displayed in the secondary toolbar.

  • In the secondary toolbar, choose Mark for Redaction > Text & Images

  • (Optional) To set the appearance of redaction marks, click Properties in the secondary toolbar.  (See Change the look of redaction markers.)

  • Mark items you want to remove by doing any of the following:

    • Double-click to select a word or image.
    • Drag to select a line, block of text, object, or area.
    • Press Ctrl as you drag to select areas of a page in a scanned document.

    To preview how your redaction marks appear, hold the pointer over the marked area.

  • To apply multiple code entries to a single redaction, right-click a redaction mark and select an option. For more information, see Apply multiple code entries to a redaction.

  • (Optional) To repeat a redaction mark, right-click it and choose Repeat Mark Across Pages. This feature is convenient if a particular header, footer, or watermark appears in the same location on many pages.

  • When you have finished marking the items you want to redact, click Apply in the secondary toolbar to remove the items, then click OK.

    The items aren’t permanently removed from the document until you save it.

  • If you want to search for and remove hidden information in the document by using the Remove Hidden Information feature, click Yes in the dialog box. Otherwise, click No.

  • Choose File > Save, and specify a filename and location. The suffix “_Redacted” is appended to the filename. If you don’t want to overwrite the original file, save the file with a different name, at a different location, or both.

  1. Convert your document to Adobe PDF format. There are several ways to do this, depending on your word processor of choice. Open Office, for instance, puts a button in the task bar that lets you export your document to pdf format with two clicks. Word 2010 allows you to "save as" a pdf file. You can also download various print drivers and file converters that will bring you the same functionality.

  2. Download a copy of Adobe Acrobat. The free version of Adobe Reader doesn't include the redaction tools needed to properly remove data, so you'll need the full version of Acrobat.

  3. Open your document in Adobe Acrobat.
  4. Select Advanced Menu/Redaction/Show Redaction Toolbar
  5. Select the Mark for Redaction tool from the Redaction Toolbar. A dialog box will remind you that your redactions will become permanent once the document is saved.

  6. Highlight the text or images that you wish to redact by holding down your Ctrl key and dragging the cursor. The Mark for Redaction tool will also give you an option to redact an entire page or page range. Once the text or graphic has been covered, you can also double click on the redacted area to add a sticky note.

  7. Review your final redactions.

  8. Select Apply Redactions from the Redaction Toolbar. Again, a dialog box will remind you that these changes will become permanent once your document has been saved. You will want to add an "r" or some other indication to the redacted version's file name. Remember to keep the original document in its pristine format.

What You Need:

For help with redacting in another version of Adobe Acrobat see: https://helpx.adobe.com/acrobat/using/removing-sensitive-content-pdfs.html

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