Researchers Find New Hack to Read Content Of Password Protected PDF Files

Wanting for strategies to unlock and go through the content of an encrypted PDF with no knowing the password?

Perfectly, that’s now attainable, sort of—thanks to a novel set of attacking approaches that could let attackers to accessibility the overall written content of a password-secured or encrypted PDF file, but under some particular conditions.

Dubbed PDFex, the new set of procedures features two classes of attacks that get advantage of security weaknesses in the common encryption security constructed into the Transportable Doc Structure, far better known as PDF.

To be observed, the PDFex attacks never permit an attacker to know or get rid of the password for an encrypted PDF alternatively, enable attackers to remotely exfiltrate content at the time a legit person opens that doc.

In other words, PDFex allows attackers to modify a protected PDF document, without the need of having the corresponding password, in a way that when opened by an individual with the proper password, the file will instantly send out out a copy of the decrypted written content to a remote attacker-managed server on the World wide web.

The scientists tested their PDFex assaults against 27 greatly-used PDF viewers, equally for desktop and browser-based, and located all of them vulnerable to at least one particular of the two attacks, though the bulk ended up found susceptible to both of those attacks.

The influenced PDF viewers involve well known program for Windows, macOS and Linux desktop working techniques this kind of as:

  • Adobe Acrobat
  • Foxit Reader
  • Okular
  • Evince
  • Nitro Reader

…as perfectly as PDF viewer that comes created into website browsers:

  • Chrome
  • Firefox
  • Safari
  • Opera

PDFex Attacks Exploit Two PDF Vulnerabilities

pdf file encryption

Identified by a team of German security researchers, PDFex performs since of the two major weaknesses in the PDF encryption, as explained under:

1) Partial Encryption — Common PDF specification by structure supports partial encryption that makes it possible for only strings and streams to be encrypted, while objects defining the PDF document’s framework stays unencrypted.

As a result, help for mixing of ciphertexts with plaintexts leaves an option for attackers to effortlessly manipulate the document framework and inject malicious payload into it.

2.) Ciphertext Malleability — PDF encryption employs the Cipher Block Chaining (CBC) encryption mode with no integrity checks, which can be exploited by attackers to make self-exfiltrating ciphertext pieces.

PDFex Attack Lessons: Immediate Exfiltration and CBC Gadgets

Now, let’s briefly understand the two classes of PDFex attacks.

Class 1: Immediate Exfiltration — It abuses the partial encryption attribute of a safeguarded PDF file.

hack pdf password

Even though leaving the content material to be exfiltrated untouched, an attacker can add further unencrypted objects in a specific encrypted PDF, which can be utilized to determine a malicious motion to be carried out when successfully opened by a legitimate person.

Web Application Firewall

These steps, as outlined beneath, defines the way a distant attacker can exfiltrate the written content:

  • Submitting a variety
  • Invoking a URL
  • Executing JavaScript

“The Motion references the encrypted pieces as written content to be involved in requests and can thus be used to exfiltrate their plaintext to an arbitrary URL,” the paper reads.

“The execution of the Action can be induced mechanically the moment the PDF file is opened (just after the decryption) or by way of person interaction, for illustration, by clicking in the document.”

For illustration, as revealed in the picture, the object which contains the URL (in blue color) for sort submission is not encrypted and wholly controlled by the attacker.

Class 2: CBC Gizmos — Not all PDF viewers assistance partially encrypted files, but lots of of them also do not have file integrity defense, which lets attackers to modify the plaintext information specifically within just an encrypted item.

remove pdf password protection

The attack circumstance of CBC gadget-based mostly assaults are virtually the very same as the Immediate Exfiltration attacks with the only variance that right here attacker modifies the present encrypted information or produce new content from CBC gizmos to add steps that define how to exfiltrate information.

Moreover this, if a PDF includes compressed streams to lessen the file dimension, attackers want to use 50 %-open object streams to steal the data.

PoC Exploit Unveiled for PDFex Assaults

The staff of researchers, which contains six German academics from Ruhr-College Bochum and Münster College, has described their conclusions to all impacted sellers and also produced proof-of-concept exploits for PDFex attacks to the general public.

hacking pdf password

Some of the previous study by the exact group of researchers incorporate the eFail assault revealed on May 2018 that affected over a dozen popular PGP-encrypted e-mail customers.

For additional specialized aspects of the PDFex assaults, you can head on to this focused website produced by the scientists and the investigation paper [PDF] titled, “Functional Decryption exFiltration: Breaking PDF Encryption.”

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