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These booby-trapped PDFs exploit vulnerabilities in PDF-reading software such as Adobe Reader. The simple act of opening them can initiate automatic downloading of malicious code from the Internet and the decoy PDFs that are displayed cover up the malicious activity.
When was the last time you updated your applications like Adobe Reader with the latest security patches? Watch this video by Chet Wisniewski and see how hackers can leverage PDFs to pwn your computer.