Ripped from the headlines: A new case shows old perceptions about PDF software and how many users believe it can be manipulated. This article takes a closer look at what went wrong, how technology identified the culprits and ways powerful PDF tools can improve an organization’s control over any PDF document.

News broke recently that federal prosecutors brought a new indictment against former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort and his associate Richard Gates. This indictment contains new evidence that Manafort and Gates allegedly hid millions of dollars in overseas income from U.S. authorities and committed numerous counts of tax and bank fraud.

What is interesting is that Manafort’s downfall is connected to PDF technology, and specifically, his inability to convert a PDF file to Word, edit it, and then re-create it as a PDF document.

According to specific details from the indictment, “Manafort emailed Gates a PDF version of a real profit and loss statement, one that showed a loss of more than $600,000. Gates converted that PDF file into a Word document, which Manafort then edited by adding more than $3.5 million in income.” The indictment also alleges that Manafort then asked Gates to convert this new Word document back into PDF format, which he did.

This back-and-forth communication created an electronic trail and made it easy for prosecutors to see exactly who changed which documents and when.

The technology edge in preventing bad behavior

This case is another example of how technology helped thwart criminal behavior or make the case against individuals after the fact. Yet it really should be a cautionary tale for companies today, one that highlights the need to have the right technological safeguards in place to prevent these types of scenarios from happening in the first place.

We’ve written about other high-profile examples before and attempted to describe how the right solutions could have stopped them. For example, we took a closer look at the potential HIPAA violation related to a NFL player’s injury and how printers identified the culprit in a classified information leak. We even examined the Snowden case and used it to highlight many security vulnerabilities most companies have today, and what can be done to overcome them.

One solution: PDF controls

This case is really no different, especially when you consider the fact that PDF software offers many powerful tools to secure every part of a document. When used correctly, these PDF tools can ensure that:

  • Recipients of a PDF file can trust that it is authentic – and has not been doctored or tampered with
  • Recipients are give the appropriate permission levels to change the PDF file
  • Recipients can also be restricted from changing or editing the file
  • The history of edits, and who made them, can be seen via an audit trail
  • Confidential information within a PDF file is protected

Today, powerful PDF software can increase security in the following ways:

  • Remove confidential information with redaction tools
  • Encrypt documents using password, certificate and server-based rights management)
  • Provide editing restrictions
  • Offer powerful encryption to control access to content, markup and even metadata
  • Make use of digital signatures for audit trails as well as eliminating the need for paper documents

Unfortunately, the world will probably always have those types of people willing to bend the rules to turn a profit or (attempt to) stay a step ahead of the authorities. Yet if their companies do all they can to prevent illicit activities – for example, with powerful PDF software – they can make it a little more challenging for them to succeed.