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February 13, 2009 /Document Security /

Properly removing sensitive information

Please forgive any missing images or edits from our blog archives.

Yesterday, another incident occurred where an electronic document was published but its sensitive information was not properly removed. Read more about it and the right way to remove sensitive information from a PDF file after the break…

On TechCrunch yesterday appeared a post about what can happen when a user tries to remove sensitive content from an electronic document but does not use the correct methods or tools. As a result, more information can be revealed than you intend and the consequences can range from embarrassment to something more serious.

As readers of this blog will note, this is not a new topic. We’ve discussed it before as well as provided videos and seminars (see here and here), articles, and documentation regarding the correct way to remove content. Starting in Acrobat 8 (in November 2006) and continuing in our current version, Acrobat 9, the product has provided two tools to directly address this need. Redaction is a tool that can permanently remove any visible information you see on your PDF document (such as text, images or scanned content). Rather than covering the content, the tool completely removes the content from the document. In addition, it gives you the option of showing an indicator (such as a black bar or a label) so the recipient knows that content has been removed.

Another Acrobat tool is Examine Document, which can remove any content that may be hidden yet still present in your document (such as metadata, comments or file attachments). Again, this content is permanently removed.


Our goal in this regard with Acrobat is to give you a set of tools that you can use to confidently and completely remove sensitive content from PDF files. We realize that there can be real business or security consequences when an organization publishes content that reveals more than what is intended.

If you have thoughts, please let us know.


Dave Stromfeld, Acrobat Product Manager

Categories: Document Security


  • By None - 8:00 PM on February 12, 2009  

    I noticed that in Acrobat version 8 “Examine Document” does not warn the user of Alternate Text (alt text).
    Alt text can be created without the user’s knowledge, for example when dragging an image file into Microsoft Word. The alt text created includes the file path and file name. This information alone may inadvertently reveal something which was not discussed anywhere else in the document.
    Are you aware of this limitation?
    Is it corrected in version 9? Is there a plan to correct it in version 8?

    [Alt Text is not something we’ve heard requests for in the past. And it has an impact on the accessibility of documents. We’ll take a look at this. Thanks – Dave]

  • By lmm - 10:49 PM on January 10, 2010  

    I dont know how old this top is but to answer the other persons reply…it’s not corrected that I know of. I have Adobe pro 9.2.0 and Im having a heck of time trying to figure out how to remove my clients alt text of their computers drive path on all the images. They sent me 21 word files that I had to pdf to make a catalog and there are tons of pictures on each page…everytime my mouse hovers over a image, it tells me my clients drive path/folders :(
    I would really like to get these off before publishing this on the web!!

  • By Tanya - 9:26 PM on March 11, 2010  

    Hi, the only fix I’ve found to not have the alt text embedded is to do File–>Print–>Adobe PDF instead of saving the file as a PDF. This worked for me when I was converting a Powerpoint –> PDF.
    Hope it helps.

  • By Bruce Milligan - 11:42 AM on April 12, 2010  

    Hi. Thank you for the last suggestion, Tanya. That worked for me. I was vexed by this and also surprised that Acrobat 8 didn’t have a tool for removing picture paths. Other than the rollover, the other way I noticed this was when checking documents for Accessibility (screen readers). The picture paths get in the way BIG TIME. I hope Adobe will realize what a pain this is and add this feature soon.

    [Hi, Bruce. Thanks for the feedback. Acrobat can remove alt text from images. In Acrobat 9, go to Advanced > PDF Optimizer. (The path may be slightly different in Acrobat 8.) Under Discard Objects, make sure that Discard Document Tags is checked. This will remove alt text from images. You can also run this in batch (on multiple PDFs at once) by going to Advanced > Document Processing > Batch Processing.
    [UPDATED] If you wish for this alt text to be excluded from the PDF when you’re converting from PowerPoint to PDF, go to the Acrobat ribbon and choose Preferences, then uncheck “Enable accessibility…”. If you then create a PDF using the Acrobat ribbon in PowerPoint, this alt text won’t be included. – Dave]