PDF: A 'Victim Of its Own Success?'

Tax season has just begun here in the United States and that inevitably means new warnings from the IRS about potential security threats. This time, it is an email to accounting providers with requests for tax services that includes a PDF with embedded web addresses that collect the tax preparer’s computer data. Over the last few years, these cyber attacks have been on the rise as we rely more and more on digital means of communication for processes that used to be entirely paper-based. PDF is front and center in this matter because it has been so widely implemented as a replacement for paper-based workflows, take a look at the article “PDF in 2016 : Broader, deeper, richer” from the PDF Association. In the article, Phil Ydens (Adobe Systems VP of Engineering) is quoted as having said that “In October, 2015, there were about 1.6 billion PDF documents on the web. About 80% included the string “2015”, implying that content is fairly current” and of course all of which have been created in the last 24 years. It’s a staggering figure because this only counts what is on the web, not the files that have been developed, stored or shared offline. With over 60 million PDFs created each year, it is easy to see why PDF is an easy target for folks with malicious intent.  Today, businesses depend on PDFs to exchange or collect information, individuals depend on PDF for something as simple as a permission slip for their child’s field trip to filing their taxes or applying for a mortgage. The world is comfortable with PDF no matter your level of tech savviness.
At almost 24 years old, though, have we allowed the PDF to be abused because of its broad adoption? Has the specification been kept up to date with today’s business demands or has standardization slowed down progress? Has universal acceptance opened the floodgates to so many methods of PDF creation that there’s more inconsistency than ever before?  These, and other questions will be included in our expert’s presentation at Developer Week in San Francisco on February 14, 2017, where we will be examining the question “Is PDF a victim of its own success?”

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