PDF redaction fail: UK's nuclear submarine secrets unveiled

By on April 18, 2011, 2:06 PM
Organizations that decided to publish an internal document to the public need to first delete or black out any personal, confidential, or actionable information. The British Ministry of Defence, which published a PDF document online, tried to do so, but ended up unintentionally revealing information about nuclear submarine security.

The PDF, titled "SUCCESSOR SSBN - SAFETY REGULATORS' ADVICE ON THE SELECTION OF THE PROPULSION PLANT IN SUPPORT OF THE FUTURE DETERRENT REVIEW NOTE", was published on the parliamentary website following requests under the Freedom of Information Act. Although sections were supposed to be protected through redaction, the method used to do so was very sloppy, according to according to The Telegraph.

The UK government merely turned the text background to black. The words were made unreadable, sure, but only in a given PDF reader. The text was still there, meaning that a user could simply copy and paste the blacked-out sections to another document. After media outlets reported the error, the issue was rectified by using an image of the document in question.

This was a very basic error to make given that anyone with an elementary knowledge of computers knows how to read the "redacted" content. Properly redacting content is not difficult, but if you don't know how, Adobe offers a simple guide on how to do so: Rick's Guide to using Redaction in Acrobat X Pro.

Thankfully the document in question was marked Restricted before it became Unclassified. The five levels are as follows: Unclassified, Restricted, Confidential, Secret, and Top Secret. Still, we hope this is a lesson for anyone who needs to redact information in a given document.




User Comments: 6

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Guest said:

And we have people like that in the goverment. Who make simple mistakes like that. lol

Lokalaskurar Lokalaskurar said:

I don't know whether to laugh or cry, but this was simply sloppy. Either that, or a beginner's mistake or an intentional inside leakage. My money is on the former.

Ahmed90 Ahmed90 said:

eh.. hiding it digitally ?.. even if its works in all PDF readers its still not 100% safe lol

hackers can easily crack the system and get what thy want in way or another ..

Guest said:

Any magnetohydrodynamic drives on these subs yet?

Guest said:

Don't hate teh catapiller!

gwailo247, TechSpot Chancellor, said:

In a very ironic twist the PDF was released by a MOD employee named Kimberly Philby.

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