Redaction ... a Hard Lesson to Learn, but there's an Effective Solution

By Jeff Brand | August 7, 2012

Not to be confused with a form of editing in which multiple source texts are combined (redacted) and subjected to minor alteration to make them into a single work, the most common meaning of redaction refers to the act of obscuring or removing sensitive information from a document prior to publication or release. It's not a complicated or technologically sophisticated process, yet headlines such as these continue to lead the news:

"Simple Redaction Error Exposes Nuclear Submarine Secrets"

"Failing University of Arizona Students Revealed by Email"

"UK Ministry of Defense Redaction Error Exposes Military Radar Secrets"

"HSBC Exposed Sensitive Bankruptcy Data"

"Low-Tech Hack Reveals Facebook/ConnectU Settlement Details"

Governments, for example, get requests for information from the public all the time, and they are obligated under Freedom of Information and Access to Information and Privacy acts to give the public information they are entitled to, while still being able to withhold sensitive or confidential personal information, often through the use of redaction.

In the manual, paper-based document world of yesteryear, redaction technology featured such well-known favourites as whiteout, black Magic Marker and X-Acto knives, and for the most part was reasonably effective. Today's electronic business world, however, requires new automated techniques.

Such was the case for one of our customers, a leading global financial services firm, whose financial analysts create hundreds of reports that go to the street every week, reporting on various companies, stocks and other investment opportunities. Although their need for effective redaction may not be as high-profile as protecting military radar secrets, they do need to ensure that analyst names, phone numbers and e-mail addresses are removed before reports are published. Previously, a team of people was assigned the task of reviewing all the reports, top to bottom, and removing such information before publication, but clearly this was neither efficient nor cost-effective.

Adlib was able to meet the customer's needs by leveraging the Adlib PDF Enterprise solution, which the customer was already using to create publication-ready PDF documents from Microsoft Word and other document types. The product's Redaction feature totally removes the 'target' content, rather than simply 'masking' it (i.e., covering the text in place with a black box) as is often done by many organizations, which can subsequently find themselves featured in headlines such as those above. It only takes a simple hack to expose the text hidden behind a black box in a multi-layered PDF file, for example.

The target content for redaction is fully customer-specifiable in Adlib and can be words, phrases, number sequences and even patterns, and multiple items can be targeted. Once the target content is found and removed, it can be replaced with either a blank space or a black box – governments, for example, seem to prefer the black box approach to indicate that something was definitely removed. In the case of our customer, since the targeted text is most often found in document headers and footers, rather than as part of inline report content, it is simply removed and left blank.

The result for our financial services customer is a secure, efficient, automated process that is saving them time, money, staff ... and potential embarrassment! Click for more information on Adlib's Redaction feature.

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