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Redaction Failures and their Consequences

Redaction Failures


In this article, we will explain how the wrong redaction methods can leave your organization’s data vulnerable, what to pay attention to when choosing a PDF redaction tool, and how to solve these problems with the right redaction software.

What is a data leak?

The ability to share sensitive documents while protecting private data is essential for any company today. Often overlooked, data leaks are unintentional disclosures of sensitive data through software vulnerabilities. Such data that enters your private network by accident and often remains unknowingly open to the public. If the disclosed data contains personal information, some could use it for fraudulent purposes. 

How Bad Redaction Practices Can Lead to Data Leaks

These days, most people are not even aware that they are sharing sensitive data. The ability to do so easily has only increased due to collaboration tools. While being able to view document history and conduct edits in real-time is a great feature for those working remotely, readers can more easily access what you may think you have removed or hidden. Even with PDFs, there are now a whole range of tools that can edit, unlock, and scrape metadata from this file type. 

While software give you the possibility to manipulate and remove information, tools are either unequipped to deal with total removal, or are misunderstood/misused by the person tasked with using it.

The disclosure to the public of "redacted" documents that do not protect confidential information has become high-profile news stories in recent years. Let's look at a few well-known cases of unintentional information leakage.

Case № 1

In 2021, the European Commission published a PDF version of a contract it awarded pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca for the availability and delivery of a certain number of doses of the COVID-19 vaccine. The contract that was posted on its website was supposed to hide some sensitive information. However, the person in charge of redacting forgot to remove the contents of the PDF bookmarks, resulting in significant portions of the document being uncovered.

Much of the edited content could be opened simply by using the bookmark tool in Adobe Acrobat Reader.

Case № 2

During a recent Federal Court case in Canada in 2021, the federal government failed to black out sensitive information properly. The government was unaware that the blacked-out text in documents released to the applicant's lawyer by the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) and Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) could be lifted to reveal confidential information. CBSA also released sensitive information that it neglected to redact.

The CBSA staff used a software tool to highlight sensitive information and then changed the highlighted color from yellow to black.

When documents with black font are highlighted in black, the highlighted information is superficially obscured, which is not a permanent method of redacting sensitive information.

An IRCC litigation analyst tasked with editing sensitive files used Microsoft Paint to make the information unreadable. Of course this can easily be uncovered.

Information under black marks can be read after being converted to PDF.

Regressing back to black-box techniques is not the brightest move in today’s digital age. With the volume of online documents that require redaction growing, it's important to have a proper and automated redaction software that isn’t going to inadvertently leak sensitive information to the public.

How automated redaction can help

To stay ahead, businesses must ensure that they enlist the highest quality redaction methods. Utilizing automated redaction software is the most effective approach, as the laws that now govern the disclosure of personal information are too strict to risk the potential errors that can result from attempting to manually redact documents.

Automated data redaction is a tool that can search, replace, or remove text, graphics, images, and other content that contains personal, sensitive, or confidential information. These tools help to securely remove sensitive data from a PDF document before sharing it with others.

Dedicated legal automation software and editing tools allow companies to comply with various data protection regulations such as PII, social security numbers, bank account numbers, CC information, and more. The use of such redacting software increases the security of customer data by minimizing the human factor and legal risks of disclosing personal information.

Let's take a look at the benefits that a PDF redaction tool can provide:

  1. Increased efficiency. Adding an automated redaction tool to your business will improve current performance and save time on menial tasks such as printing and scanning documents. Automated redaction can help eliminate the need to manually review and edit documents, saving employees time, improving workflows, and increasing efficiency.

  1. Easy implementation. Unlike complex discovery software, implementing automated redaction software doesn't require time-consuming employee training, expensive software, or large resources.

  1. Eliminated risk of sensitive data disclosure. Automated redaction software produces permanent, irreversible redactions and can be configured to do so with minimal human oversight. Less time spent on manual work means more time is available to focus on meaningful work.

When looking for an online redaction tool, automated solutions are faster, easier to use, and more efficient than those that rely on manual editing. In addition to facilitating the efficient reviewing of documents, a redaction tool also allows organizations to easily verify and enforce the necessary legal requirements.

Unlike physical documents, which require a black marker to mask sensitive data, editing processes in electronic documents are more efficient because they permanently remove sensitive information; however, this requires carefully selected and reliable document redaction software.

Must-have software features to avoid data leaks

While there are many PDF editing tools with redaction capabilities on the market, it doesn't mean that they perform irreversible data redaction functions properly. The above examples clearly show how the neglect of PDF editing tools leads to the disclosure of sensitive data.

Here are the must-have features that a document redaction company should have to help you protect your important and sensitive data when sharing.

  1. Multiple file types. There are different formats, such as PDF, JPG, PNG, DOC, and XLS, which your data redaction software should be able to handle.
  2. Permanent redacting. Make sure your tool allows you to permanently remove text, graphics, and images from a document. This is to prevent someone from uncovering the edited text.
  3. Auto-redact data. The editing tool should be able to identify personal information such as names, addresses, and credit card numbers, and offer a way to replace the text with something else (or just to black it out completely.
  4. Collaborative redacting. There should be the flexibility to redact simultaneously with colleagues, leave edits, and share or suggest your options in comments, just as you can do in Google Docs.

Don’t let bad redaction be the cause of the next big data leak

One of the greatest risks for a company is the inadvertent disclosure of confidential data. Don’t let poor redaction practices be the reason that you become one of these companies.


Want to learn more about redaction best practices? Check out The Ultimate Checklist for Permanent Redaction

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