Authored by: David Santiago, Head of Industry, Document Cloud, Public Sector, Adobe
With the Malaysian government moving towards bringing 80% of its services online by 2025, what they say on the web and how they correspondingly execute their missions feed into the public’s perception of their credibility. Developing a trustworthy online presence has perhaps never been as important and challenging as it is now. Digital content continues to be susceptible to bad actors who can misappropriate information at great expense to society.
Even content such as PDF, which like other technologies, can be vulnerable to misuse if proper steps to secure it are not taken. So how can government agencies mitigate the risks?
Challenges with securing digital documents
Government services are about trust. There are various types of trust. Trust may be in the form of competence – can the government perform its mission satisfactorily? Trust may be in the form of values – does the government share the values of its stakeholders and citizens? For citizen-facing government services such as public transit, waste collection and tax administration, the public expects that publicly financed busses run on time, that trash is collected, and that taxes are processed accurately.
In the digital age, one of the primary ways government agencies establish trust with citizens is through their websites and digital media, which represent the various agencies, offices and brands. Online content is the core of all websites, and PDF is one of the most common and useful types of digital files for conveying information about government services. PDFs are so useful to government agencies because anyone can open them and read them, no matter what computer operating system they use. Additionally, PDFs are a ‘fixed’ document format, which prevents changes to look and feel. In other words, an important tax form looks the same on the computer screen as it does when it’s printed, thanks to PDF.
Unfortunately, bad actors can take advantage of improperly secured content to damage the reputation of government agencies. This abuse can have serious consequences for governments, its agencies, and the citizens they serve.
Government impersonation fraud has also been reported at government health and human services agencies. For example, in March 2022 the Ministry of Health (MOH) needed to publicly deny that they had published an infographic about a fourth booster dose, which had been circulating online. This is one of many instances that the MOH needed to make such clarifications on faked documents during the pandemic.
Most government websites have a variety of PDF content that is branded and formatted specifically to convey critical information about key programs and services. Yet, PDFs can be vulnerable to manipulation if they are not properly secured. PDFs lacking certificate-based encryption can be impersonated and susceptible to malicious edits.
Considering the variety of mixed media used on government websites, PDFs can get overlooked in an organization’s overall online security framework. Government agencies should assess the requisite security features that travel with digital documents to prevent unintended data spillage, unauthorized document access, or malicious manipulation. According to a recent report from Forbes, a lack of organizational processes around document-level restrictions is a major risk across all industries. This is where Adobe can help.
Mitigating reputational risk
Use the right document tools: Government organizations can leverage a variety of tools within Adobe Acrobat DC to certify, encrypt, and remove or redact sensitive data before publication. Using the security features in Acrobat will mitigate the potential risk of PDFs being manipulated, and can prevent sensitive data spillage.
Conduct document process health checks: Government organizations should consider conducting periodic “health checks” of its PDFs and other web content to ensure that they have not been altered by bad actors and continue to stay secure.
Securing digital documents is about maintaining trust with the public. Government organizations need to accurately communicate information about their programs and services, and they can’t afford to have their reputations tarnished by scammers manipulating their documents.
Trust as the cornerstone
Adobe is proud to be the leader in secure digital documents and we continue to work closely with governments around the globe to strengthen their trust with citizens. More broadly, Adobe is spearheading the cross-industry Content Authenticity Initiative (CAI) to fight misinformation and add a layer of verifiable trust to other types of digital content such as images and videos, through provenance and attribution solutions.
Given the integral role digital content plays in engendering trust in society, Adobe has made trust the cornerstone of all our products, and we’re committed to working with public and private institutions to build more trustworthy and authentic digital content.