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Security issue: Can PDF be viewed on the Server ....

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  • Security issue: Can PDF be viewed on the Server ....

    Typically, in order to view a PDF, it is downloaded to the user's computer and viewed on THEIR computer. This presents a security issue doesn't it? That means that confidential information will now exist on any computer from which the user chooses to access the WAS application. This is obviously not desireable. So, i can think of 2 possibilities - either allow the user to view the PDF ON THE SERVER without downloading it, or automatically delete the PDF from the user's computer. Regarding the latter, as I am writing this, I am thinking that perhaps the way to go would be to be sure the PDF is downloaded to the session folder within the webroot so that it is deleted automatically when the session expires. Am I on the right track here? Or are there other better ways, or other issues to consider?

    Gary
    Gary S. Traub, Ph.D.


  • #2
    Re: Security issue: Can PDF be viewed on the Server ....

    Hi Gary

    I am not sure this can be overcome. If a pdf is viewed on screen then my understanding is that the browser will automatically store this in a temporary folder. I am not aware that you can force this not to happen, although I am intrigued to see if that is possible.

    However it is possible to securely lock down a pdf so that it cannot be printed etc. Maybe that is the way to go?
    Glen Schild



    My Blog

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    • #3
      Re: Security issue: Can PDF be viewed on the Server ....

      Normally I just do what you are suggesting, e.g. store PDFs outside the web root and copy them into the user's session folder on demand. Any other user trying to access that session folder just gets a security warning - as the server admin you can obviously go and browse all folders (if you are logged onto the server through VNC or remote desktop) but other web users cannot do this.

      Although you can also set a folder (which you keep PDFs in) to require a user to be logged in to view the contents.

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      • #4
        Re: Security issue: Can PDF be viewed on the Server ....

        Glen, thanks for your input.


        Andrea, the part I do not understand about this is once the user views the PDF, they have downloaded it to THEIR computer, regardless of where I store it on the server. So that would not be very secure either. The only thing I can think of is to to do as you say, which I already do, re storing the PDF's outside the webroot and then copying them there upon demand, but then warning the user that when they view a PDF, it downloads to their computer, and for them to take appropriate precautions regarding confidentiality. Am I missing something, or am I correct on this?

        Gary
        Gary S. Traub, Ph.D.

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        • #5
          Re: Security issue: Can PDF be viewed on the Server ....

          Originally posted by drgarytraub View Post
          Glen, thanks for your input.


          Andrea, the part I do not understand about this is once the user views the PDF, they have downloaded it to THEIR computer, regardless of where I store it on the server. So that would not be very secure either. The only thing I can think of is to to do as you say, which I already do, re storing the PDF's outside the webroot and then copying them there upon demand, but then warning the user that when they view a PDF, it downloads to their computer, and for them to take appropriate precautions regarding confidentiality. Am I missing something, or am I correct on this?

          Gary
          Ah no there is nothing you can do unless you are talking about a company where you can control the cache settings of the users's browsers. There are probably plug-ins that allow users to view a PDF without actually displaying a downloadable or cached PDF, Google Mail does something similar.

          You could also look into something like Ghostscript to try and produce an image of the PDF although of course that would still be cached in the browser.
          Last edited by NoeticCC; 07-15-2009, 09:30 AM.

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          • #6
            Re: Security issue: Can PDF be viewed on the Server ....

            Gary

            Only once have I not been able to "save" a pdf from the browser onto my system and that is where a company used almost all the adobe security on this document. Even where the "save" buttons have been disabled I have still managed to get around.

            The attached illustration shows what you can "lock down" within Acrobat. How much of this can be done elsewhere is another question.

            Regards

            Glen
            Glen Schild



            My Blog

            Comment


            • #7
              Re: Security issue: Can PDF be viewed on the Server ....

              Wouldn't the PDF itself still get cached in the user's browser?

              Comment


              • #8
                Re: Security issue: Can PDF be viewed on the Server ....

                Yes it would, nothing can really stop anyone saving this but at least it could not be printed or amended.

                This is one of the biggest challenges with data protection at the minute. More and more businesses are waking up to the fact that personal confidential sensitive information should not be available electronically.
                Glen Schild



                My Blog

                Comment


                • #9
                  Re: Security issue: Can PDF be viewed on the Server ....

                  Dr Gary, I was a MS IE Programmer in another incarnation.
                  Anyhow you I can definitly tell you you are right, in believing that the PDF or an image will be held on the users Hard Drive when they download to view it.
                  You probably can organise it not to be cached on the PC, but will still be there, never the less. And deleting as we all no can be reversed.
                  The only methedology to stop this is to transmit an encrypted document
                  where the user enters a password to view the document. Thus only those who know the password have access. But as soon as any document is downloaded it is susceptable to various brute force attacks.
                  In short I would suggest that the security of the hardware is what is important.

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