Decertifying secured Stanford transcript PDF

Friday, March 29, 2013

Stanford (and probably many other schools) provide official transcripts in the form of a signed PDF. This transcript can only be opened using Adobe Acrobat; other readers simply choke on the document and can't open it. This is caused by the use of a proprietary "secured" document signing feature, apparently exclusive to Adobe Reader, which verifies the authenticity of the transcript. (For comparison, Duke University provides regular PDFs that can be opened by any reader, but can be verified by uploading the file to a trusted authority who confirms the document's legitimacy.)

Stanford's PDFs are particularly annoying because you can't take a screenshot with Print Screen (though the Snipping Tool works), Acrobat won't remove the signature, and attempting to use Acrobat Reader print the PDF to CutePDF simply results in a mostly-blank page with the following text:

ERROR: undefined

Here's how to un-certify the PDF:

  1. Open the secured PDF in Acrobat Reader and "Print to File" (File/Print, click Advanced, and check the box).

  2. Note: this step may violate certain laws. Proceed at your own risk. A comment in the file declares that "Removing the following eleven lines is illegal, subject to the Digital Copyright Act of 1998."

    Open the resulting .ps file in a text editor. Find and delete the following block:

    mark currentfile eexec
    ... stuff here ...

    Then, use ps2pdf or similar to convert the PostScript file to PDF.

    This entire step can be accomplished with the following:

    $ sed '/mark currentfile eexec/,/cleartomark/d' \
          | ps2pdf - unsecured.pdf
  3. For Stanford transcripts, the pages need to be rotated clockwise, so use pdftk:

    $ pdftk input.pdf cat 1-endE output output.pdf

Tags: pdf, stanford | Posted at 14:51 | Comments (6)


John on Wednesday, May 15, 2013 at 10:49

Wow, this is super useful for me.

T on Sunday, November 10, 2013 at 14:53

Really helpful for me too!!

Rajen on Monday, February 2, 2015 at 22:53

This was really helpful. But why would CutePDF refuse to print such files? Any other PDF writer which would print to PDF such type (pdf files which are password protected) of files so that they become unprotected?


David on Tuesday, February 3, 2015 at 10:19

@Rajen: I looked but wasn't able to find a program that would do this automatically, so this is the best I could come up with. I don't think it's CutePDF actively refusing to print the file; I think the "print" function in Adobe Reader is, possibly intentionally, sending things that CutePDF doesn't understand and can't handle.

jon on Wednesday, November 2, 2016 at 08:01

There is the regular "copy" that keeps showing all over the .pdf page. Any fix for this?

Hope you have a good day, and thank you for sharing your wisdom.

David on Thursday, December 8, 2016 at 20:05

@jon: Do you mean a big "copy" mark on the page, kind of like "proof" on a photo? To get rid of that, you'll probably need to edit the PDF itself. Unfortunately, I don't have a handy script for that.

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