The Importance of PDF Security in Your Organization and How You Can Secure Your PDFs

Many businesses prefer using PDFs to store and share business information. Its ubiquitous format, convenience, and multi-dimensional features make it inevitable. But, are PDFs secure enough?

Every business must first answer this question before using PDFs for sensitive or confidential information because even the slightest loophole in security features can make your business information fall into the wrong hands and jeopardize your entire business. Can you afford that to happen?

So, let us take a deeper look at why PDF security is critical and how you can ensure the security of your PDF documents.

Why Is PDF Security Important?

Securing PDF files has become necessary for various reasons. We examine a few of these below.

Comply with Regulations

Dealing with customers’ private information may require you to comply with certain standards to safeguard their privacy and safety such as GDPR. Securing PDF files with encryption and DRM controls would mean they are adequately protected and can save you from having to pay hefty fines.

Protect Intellectual Property

It is a common practice to store trade secrets, internal processes, and other sensitive information in PDF files. If these files are not properly secured, they can fall into the wrong hands. 

Prevent Unauthorized Sharing

One of the advantages of PDF files is that they can be shared easily. However, this can also be a drawback. You may need to share PDF files with people inside your organization or outside, but what prevents them from sharing these files with unauthorized users?

How to Secure PDF Files

PDF files can be secured through encryption, Digital Rights Management (DRM), and licensing controls. Let us take a look at some of their controls to understand them better.

PDF Sharing

Encrypt your PDFs so they cannot be viewed by unauthorized users. Encrypted PDF files can be shared but cannot be viewed by the recipient without the decryption key. The decryption key needs be transferred to the device of the authorized recipient securely and transparently so that is not made available to the user (i.e. a visible password) – otherwise they would be able to share it with others. In this case, licensing controls are used to identify the authorized user and lock the key to their device.  If the authorized user then shares the PDF and the decryption key with unauthorized recipients, those unauthorized users will not be able to access the file as the decryption key will not work on their devices. 

PDF Printing

When sharing PDF files with authorized users, you can disable the printing option so that they cannot make any printouts. Sometimes it may be necessary to allow printouts and, in such cases, you can control the number of printouts allowed. Also, you will be able to prevent printers from saving a protected PDF to an unprotected PDF file (using the printto PDF option).

PDF Editing

If you do not want your users editing your PDF, you can disable the editing option, meaning even authorized users will not be able to make changes to your PDF. The same applies to the copy and paste options. If you disabled these options, authorized users will not be able to select and copy the content to paste it to another document.  Also, the Save As option for saving the PDF on a computer will not be available to users.

Screenshots 

Makingsure users cannot take high quality screenshots is a good method of slowing down re-distribution of content. You can use a good PDF security product to prevent print screen options as well as prevent third-party screen grabbing applications from taking screenshots of your content. Some PDF security software will put a mask over the content when the user moves the cursor to another application to prevent users copying text by viewing the protected document in one window and typing the text into another application at the same time. Applying a dynamic watermark over the content is another option that may discourage users from taking photographs of your content.

PDF Expiry

You can expire PDF files so that they cannot be used after a certain period of time. The PDF file can be automatically expired after a number of views, after a number of days or after a number of prints have been made. Alternatively, it can expire on a specified date.

Revoking PDF Files 

You can revoke users’ access to your PDF files so that some or all PDF files they have access to become instantly inaccessible.  You can also revoke individual access to PDF documents so that no user can access them anymore.  This can be handy is there is an error in the document. 

Locking PDF Files to Locations or Devices

You can apply controls to ensure PDF files will only be accessible from a certain location, domain or IP address range or from a specific device, such as a desktop, laptop, mobile or tablet. 

Logging PDF Usage

You can see when users have viewed and printed your PDF files, how many times, and from where.  This can be useful to see if a certain document has been used by a specific user.

Conclusion 

You cannot properly protect PDF files without the necessary tools. Simple password protection is not enough because passwords and PDF files can be shared easily and the restriction controls that your PDF reader enables (no printing, no editing, etc.) can be easily bypassed. Only adequate PDF DRM security can enable you to distribute PDF files securely and control how they can be used.

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