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Increasingly, people have become concerned that documents they send out, particularly in PDF format, may be open to re-distribution or misuse. Very often people do not want recipients to be able to change what they have done. And experience with Facebook has also taught people that they do not always want their documents made public without their permission. If the documents have commercial value this becomes even more important.
PDF documents are often used because there is a misperception that they are ‘secure’ and cannot have been altered. But do they have security features such as password protection?
The first thing to be aware of is that there are a number of PDF security capabilities in the Adobe PDF standard document format (ISO/IEC 32000). These are:
So any PDF document could be password protected in order to control its distribution and use.
Although you can use loads of applications to produce a PDF file in the Adobe standard format, not all of them will allow you to implement PDF passwords or digital signatures. It’s a bit hit and miss. For instance, perhaps the commonest application used to create a PDF is part of Microsoft Office. Their applications will allow you to set the password to open a document, but you cannot use them to change permissions or apply digital signatures.
The obvious choice of application for creating secured DPF files is Adobe Professional from the originator of the file format. But you may find that their particular solution is not cost effective, or is not readily integrated into existing applications that you already have for creating or handling PDF documents.
Don’t worry, there are a plethora of other suppliers who will allow you to apply the standard Adobe controls to PDF documents that you create with their applications. If you already have a PDF creating application just check that they provide those capabilities. If they aren’t able to do that then it depends on how much (or little) you want to pay. Suppliers who charge that you might want to look at include:
These all work on your local machine and have refinements such as running in batch mode or digitally signing all documents within a folder.
If you would prefer to use cloud based services (in other words run the application that is applying the passwords on somebody else’s server) there are quite a few suppliers you could consider, although they often don’t support digital signatures. These include:
So you can apply PDF password protection easily, and there are a wide number of suppliers who support that approach.
But you have to look at whether PDF password protection is actually offering you the kind of document security you actually want. It is not very flexible and doesn’t tick many boxes when it comes to controlling the actual use of documents (how long are they available, can use be revoked, personalised watermarking on printing or viewing, and so on).
If you have several recipients and several documents you need to look at how you manage that situation. Check out the article on Working with PDF Passwords which looks at what you need to do to get PDF password controls work for you.
If you are looking for additional security and more comprehensive and granular controls than the basic password protection then you will need to look at specialist PDF DRM providers such as Locklizard who provide enhanced controls and license management and administration services.