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Manage and Improve PDF Document Security

written by: Lysis10•edited by: Rebecca Scudder•updated: 7/13/2010

As more people use the Portable Document Format (PDF) for distributed content, security is an issue to avoid copyright infringement. A simple Word file allows anyone to read, edit and print content, but a PDF document blocks copying, editing and even printing to protect the owner’s work.

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    Why use PDF document security?

    Using document security options in your PDF allows you control over what happens to it. Here is how to use PDF security for protection of your intellectual property rights- and your proprietary information.

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    Set PDF Password

    PDF documents don’t have any encryption or password set by default. The “File” menu item has a “Document Security” option. This property window contains the security protection settings, which protects the PDF document from unauthorized distribution. Select “Standard PDF Security” from the window. Enter a master and user permission password in the opened window.

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    Types of PDF Passwords

    Master and user passwords are applied to the PDF document. A master password is similar to setting a main administrator password to the document. The master password protects from readers changing the content. The master password has control over all document settings, so it should be kept secure like any other administrator password. The user password gives simple access to the document. For instance, if the administrator wants to block reading the document, a user password only allows authorized access for reading. Other types of security can also be set using a user password.

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    Setting User Passwords

    User permissions are the heart of PDF security. PDF documents are meant for distribution and publication, so protecting a readable document from certain activities is the complicated part of security. The Adobe PDF format allows administrators to mix and match document permissions according to the business needs.

    The most common user permission protection is disabling edits and copying content in the document. Although the document can be transcribed, this takes much more effort than copying and pasting content directly from the PDF. Protection from copying and editing keeps the document secure from minor changes and claiming the rewritten content as someone’s own.

    eBook writers and other content copywriters use print protection for their work. Administrators can block printing, which disallows printing to a printer, fax machine, scanner or any other electronic transmission to hardcopy.

    Finally, the PDF creator can disallow comments. Comment sections in a PDF are used as instructional information for form fields when users fill out documents such as contracts. These comments are protected, so users are unable to change the instructional information, which can ruin form field data. This type of protection is only needed if the PDF contains forms.

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    File Location and Sharing

    PDF format is advanced to the point where now companies can create these documents on-the-fly. When creating a document whether through programming or human editing, place PDF files with sensitive data in a password protected area of the network or web server. This blocks search engines from spidering the data, so the document is not indexed and open for any reader. Keeping documents in password protected folders on an internal server protects data from being viewed by any employee personnel.

    File sharing and web host security applies additional protection to PDF documents. Web host providers can set password protection to the PDF area, so only authorized users can download and view the file name. This means documents hosted on the web aren't even seen by users unless a specific file name and URL are provided.

    Using PDF document security means you control what is allowed and what can be done with your work. It is an important tool in informational security.