Document Type


Publication Date




Publication Title

IEEE Access






Researchers from academia and the corporate-sector rely on scholarly digital libraries to access articles. Attackers take advantage of innocent users who consider the articles' files safe and thus open PDF-files with little concern. In addition, researchers consider scholarly libraries a reliable, trusted, and untainted corpus of papers. For these reasons, scholarly digital libraries are an attractive-target and inadvertently support the proliferation of cyber-attacks launched via malicious PDF-files. In this study, we present related vulnerabilities and malware distribution approaches that exploit the vulnerabilities of scholarly digital libraries. We evaluated over two-million scholarly papers in the CiteSeerX library and found the library to be contaminated with a surprisingly large number (0.3-2%) of malicious PDF documents (over 55% were crawled from the IPs of US-universities). We developed a two layered detection framework aimed at enhancing the detection of malicious PDF documents, Sec-Lib, which offers a security solution for large digital libraries. Sec-Lib includes a deterministic layer for detecting known malware, and a machine learning based layer for detecting unknown malware. Our evaluation showed that scholarly digital libraries can detect 96.9% of malware with Sec-Lib, while minimizing the number of PDF-files requiring labeling, and thus reducing the manual inspection efforts of security-experts by 98%.


This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.

Original Publication Citation

Nissim, N., Cohen, A., Wu, J., Lanzi, A., Rokach, L., Elovici, Y., & Giles, L. (2019). Sec-Lib: Protecting scholarly digital libraries from infected papers using active machine learning framework. IEEE Access, 7, 110050-110073. doi:10.1109/access.2019.2933197


0000-0003-0173-4463 (Wu)