PDF Security: Sharing Your Work Product With the Public

You’ve got something to share. A newsletter, a brochure, a seminar handout. You’ve spent time making the document look its best. You converted it to PDF. Everyone can access your shiny new PDF and no one can steal your work product. Well, almost.

Unless your PDF is properly secured, its contents can be copied and pasted into a word-processing document, where your work can be manipulated or altered. Anyone with Adobe Acrobat and a little knowledge can reuse and repurpose the content, taking credit for your hard work.

But don’t worry. All is not lost. You can use Acrobat to secure your documents and protect your work product. The steps are listed in short form first, with a more detailed explanation below.

1. Open your PDF in Acrobat and select File, Properties from the menu toolbar. In the dialog box that opens, go to the Security tab.

2. From the Security Method drop-down box, choose Password Required. A new dialog box opens. There are several options in this dialog box but we only need one of them to accomplish our objective. (See Figure 1).

3. Under Permissions, check the box next to Restrict editing and printing of the document. Type a password in the Change Permissions Password box. (See Figure 2).

4. In the drop-down box for Printing Allowed, select High Resolution. If you select None, your readers won’t be able to print the PDF, which they likely would find particularly annoying. After all, the point of sharing your newsletter or other publication is for recipients to read it. Prevent printing and you defeat the purpose to a large degree.

5. In the drop-down box for Changes Allowed, select None. And make sure that the check box next to the Enable copying of text option is not checked.

Figure 1

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Figure 2

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Here’s a tip about password selection. Choose one easy-to-remember password that will be used for all documents created internally that you want to share with the public. The purpose of the password is to protect the contents of a quarterly newsletter. Although this is a perfectly legitimate goal, it doesn’t necessitate the same level of security as, let’s say, entrance to the NASA offices. Shoot for something that can be remembered and you’ll avoid the frustrating experience of being locked out of your own document.

Make sure that everyone who has any part in the creation or publication of these documents is given the password and knows that it is the only password that may be used. This includes your assistant, who may make any final changes to the document before converting it to PDF. It also includes the individuals responsible for posting these documents on your firm’s website. And it includes members of your marketing team who may send the documents to news and media sources. Everyone should know the password and should know to check the security of every document prior to releasing it the public.

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2 responses to “PDF Security: Sharing Your Work Product With the Public”

  1. Jay Geary says:

    Another excellent post, Molly! Merely saving a document in PDF format or converting a Word document (I don’t know if WordPerfect documents are also convertible to PDF, but I’ll assume they are) is no guarantee that an enterprising recipient or reader of same won’t “crack” the PDF wall and be in a position to copy or manipulate the text. Adobe Acrobat’s suite of programs (I use Adobe Acrobat Professional) offer a lot of document security options that anyone who’s pushing their intellectual work product into the public domain should learn to use, whether it’s a form contract, an article, a PowerPoint presentation, or some other form of media that’s convertible to PDF format. I don’t know if the same safeguards are feature of the NitroPro PDF software. Someone who uses that application should weigh in. Oh, by the way: Nitro (a free add-on for Firefox) had no trouble converting *your* web page just now to PDF and then allowed me to block and copy text. Just an experiment. Scary.

  2. MikeR says:

    And don’t forget about the metadata in File/Document Properties. Data left in there can come back and bite you. Make sure it’s either the right data or it’s blank.

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