Weaponized PDF - Payload Delivery Format

This article describes the PDF file format, related security issues and useful resources. [WORK IN PROGRESS]

The original location of this article is http://www.decalage.info/file_formats_security/pdf

Last update: 2017-11-10 (created 2010-02-13)

File format description

PDF (Portable Document Format) is a file format designed by Adobe. It is mainly used to publish final version of documents on the Internet, by e-mail or on CD-ROMs. Its main purpose is to display or print documents with a fixed layout. The PDF format may also be used to create electronic forms.

More info: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Portable_Document_Format

Main client applications

The main application used to open PDF files for display is Adobe Reader. Many alternative applications are also able to display PDF files, such as Preview on MacOSX and Foxit Reader on Windows.

Adobe Acrobat is one of the applications which can create and edit PDF documents.

Main security issues

PDF is usually considered as a static and safe format for document exchange, which is a wrong perception.

The PDF format is in fact very complex, and contains several features which may lead to security issues:

Potential Solutions

Format specifications and technical information

Publications about PDF security issues

Examples of known vulnerabilities and exploits

Obfuscation techniques

Before analyzing malicious documents, it's good to know your enemy. Here are a few hand-picked blog posts and articles that explain known obfuscation and anti-analysis techniques:

Analysis techniques

Useful analysis tools

(listed in no particular order)



Linux distributions


Parsing tools and libraries

Filtering tools and libraries