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Can a PDF document contain a virus?
The short answer is yes. Adobe Acrobat (the full version, not Adobe Acrobat
Reader) is capable of embedding arbitrary documents or applications inside a PDF
document. That means that a malicious individual could embed an application that does
damage when it is run. It also means that one can embed a virus inside a PDF
document. The capability to embed documents or applications inside a PDF document has been
around since Adobe Acrobat 4, and Adobe has long recognized that this feature
could indeed be abused. As a precaution, a quite severe error message is shown
before any embedded document or application is opened.
To become infected by a virus embedded inside a PDF document, a user would have
to do the following:
Open the PDF document attached to an email message inside the full Adobe
Acrobat – the free Adobe Acrobat Reader does not support embedded files and will
not allow the virus to run.
Double-click on the file attachment annotation inside the PDF document. This
attachment cannot be run automatically – the user has to double-click on it
before anything happens.
Ignore the warning message shown by Adobe Acrobat.
This is a quite complicated process and as a result, the risk of being
infected by a virus inside a PDF document is relatively small. Still, it is important to know that it is possible to embed dangerous
applications inside a PDF document. And, as always, it’s important to be weary of
attachments to email messages.
The warning message explicitly mentions the risk of viruses. This
warning message cannot be hidden or avoided by the virus – a user must click
the 'Open' button to proceed.
Removing the threat: Users of Enfocus PitStop Professional and Enfocus
PitStop Server can remove all embedded files from a PDF document by running an Action List.
Alternatively, users of Enfocus PitStop library can remove embedded files during preflight. To do this, they
must preflight using a Preflight Profile that has the check for Annotations set to "Remove" or "Remove and Log." Be aware
that doing this can remove all annotations from your PDF documents, not just
embedded file annotations.