Corrupt pdf files - a cautionary tale.

Julian Field mailscanner at
Tue Jul 29 16:25:33 IST 2003

At 16:00 29/07/2003, you wrote:
> > -----Original Message-----
> > From: Julian Field [mailto:mailscanner at ECS.SOTON.AC.UK]
> > Sent: 29 July 2003 12:31
> > Subject: Re: Corrupt pdf files, any advice.
> >
> > Outlook XP always appears to use Base64, so I suspect the
> > problem may just
> > exist in Exchange 5.5 and/or Outlook 97. Don't know about
> > Outlook 2000.
> >
> > Whether Acrobat Reader (on some platforms) will continue to
> > be able to use
> > the damaged file is another matter entirely, something over
> > which I have no
> > control.
> >
> > All I can suggest is you request people using the particular
> > troublesome
> > versions always zip their PDF files to stop Outlook destroying them.
>These PDF files will continue to be a problem for sites that are similar
>to ourselves. BEWARE if your site shares the following characteristics:
>(1) Uses Sophos as your A-V tool; (2) have upgraded or are about to
>upgrade from an oldish version of MailScanner that does not have the
>"Allowed Sophos Error Messages =" option in the configuration file, and
>(3) receive and pass on lots of PDF files.
>We were running MS 4.10-1 for many months and were processing scores of
>PDF file attachments each day without any problems. Then two weeks ago I
>upgraded to MS 4.22-5 and at that point most PDF file attachments
>started to be rejected.
>The common symptom was that Sophos reported the attachment as being
>"corrupt". Sophos itself had not changed recently so the problem lay
>either with MS 4.22-5 or the way in which I had configured it. After
>some discussion with Julian it became clear that it was the latter.
>The fault lay with my ignoring a fairly new configuration file option
>which is specific to Sophos: "Allowed Sophos Error Messages =". In fact
>the potential problem with this option is highlighted by Julian in the
>comments that prefix this option in the configuration file - I should
>perhaps have read more carefully.
>That said the default value for this new option is "unsafe" in
>situations like ours because it has immediate and damaging operational
>consequences that are not as apparent as they should be from Julian's
>warning. The option's default value is "safe" from a security point of
>view and can be ignored by sites that do not use Sophos.
>By default the value of this option is null which means that if Sophos
>detects a corrupt attachment (which it thus cannot scan) then MS will
>"fail safely" and flag the attachment as possibly containing a virus.
>After the upgrade to MS 4.22-5 I had left this option with its default
>value with the result that all the dodgy PDF files that Sophos and MS
>4.10-1 had been quietly ignoring were suddenly being flagged as possible
>The fix was to set "Allowed Sophos Error Messages = corrupt" in the
>configuration file which means that Sophos will simply ignore any
>"damaged" attachment that generates the Sophos error string "(corrupt)".
>Many of these PDF files had been received from other sites before I
>upgraded MS so people were not aware of a problem with them since they
>viewed OK. It was only later when they tried to send them on to other
>people (after MS was upgraded) that the damage became apparent.
>It is no good of course zipping them once they are damaged but zipping
>them before first mailing them would have prevented the problem, as
>Julian suggests. However we have no control over the many sites that
>send us PDF files so it is likely that this will be a continuing problem
>for sites like ourselves for a long time to come.
>Unfortunately the fix to this problem has the consequence that any
>corrupt file, PDF or non-PDF, that Sophos cannot scan will potentially
>be delivered. However since we also run with a second A-V product
>(McAfee) and have the usual MS filename extension and file type blocks
>in place I hope we will be reasonably protected.

Is there anything I can do to help other people to avoid this problem?
Julian Field
MailScanner thanks transtec Computers for their support

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