Prevent PDF From Being Copied, Downloaded And Printed

PDF documents are used widely across industries, professions and departments. In some cases these PDFs carry a lot of sensitive information that needs strict control so that they do not fall into the wrong hands. This is where Digital Rights Management (DRM) comes into play as an important part of securing your PDFs and ensuring your have total rights access control. 

Sending an email attachment is incredibly simple but ultimately, you lose control of that document as soon as you hit send. With some sort of digital rights management you have no idea who has downloaded it or what they have done with it either.

What is Digital Rights Management?

Digital Rights Management specifically focuses on technology that enables you to control what a viewer of the document can do with your document. In most cases this is based on copy and download protection which ensures that viewers can easily view the PDF document but they cannot use the content in any way other than reading it. 

You can imagine that this is useful for documents that contain sensitive information or highly classified. This stops any unwanted spreading of information from your PDF document which can cause colossal damages to a business. 

With DRM it becomes incredibly difficult for viewers to ‘borrow’ your document and spread it around. So really take the time to consider how confidential and sensitive your documents are outside of your company.

Who uses Digital Rights Management Software?

DRM software is used to stop any illegal use or distribution of content. So for example:

  • eBook publishers: To ensure there are no downloads and sharing via forums and file sharing websites DRM is used to protect a publishers content. The same can be said for training manuals and books, DRM stops intellectual property within these books from being distributed and sold elsewhere.
  • Finance: There are some strict guidelines that focus on data security compliance within the finance sector so it’s easy to see why DRM is a go-to. From earnings reports to due diligence reporting there is a lot of sensitive information that can prove very profitable to people with malicious intent. Keeping documents behind DRM software makes it far safer to keep documents viewable and secure.
  • Corporations have their own version of DRM which is Information Rights Management (IRM). This is used to control access to important and vital company documents that are required for day-to-day operations. The idea here is that once an employee leaves, the IRM can revoke access to everything. This mitigates any potential information leaks that could potentially cost the corporation a hefty sum of money in fines.
  • Healthcare: When a doctor needs to send, internally and externally, a patient’s medical record there needs to be a level of security to ensure compliance for data protection. In most cases a DRM system will add security to the document but it will ensure that the doctor is compliant with regulations around data sharing.

The problem with DRM solutions

When it comes to DRM software and platforms there are a couple of issues that need to be considered: the cost and the learning curve (for both the viewer and the user). For most companies and individuals this is enough to put them off going for a DRM. Whilst it all sounds perfect and useful on the outside, knowing that you have full control of your PDF documents, it is still not enough DRMs a wide spread tool.

Some DRM platforms still require app installs directly onto the computer. Meaning that there are multiple processes and steps to go through just to view the document. This is not how things are done anymore, especially with cloud computing. 

This is something that we wanted to address at HelpRange, by developing a secure document sharing platform with full security and access controls. Now you can share PDF documents with full knowledge that links can be deactivated with the push of a button, IP locking and much more.

What are things that DRM cannot do

Whilst a DRM can put in place some preventative measures to protect your PDF document, it cannot stop certain aspects of document theft. For example, a simple video recording of the document is more than enough to bypass all of the measures put in place. 

Some DRM platforms provide water marking to make things a little harder than use to copy documents. Even a screenshot is more than enough to have a copy of a safeguarded document. Regardless of the short falls of DRM systems they do still provide a nuisance and can be enough to put people off from copying your documents. 

How does HelpRange help with Digital Rights Management?

A HelpRange client had asked us if it would be possible to act some elements of rights management within our document viewer. We did.

By implementing 1-viewer at a time control it meant that the clients eBook could only be viewed by one user of a purchase. So for example, the link could not be shared around with multiple users all viewing at the same time. Think of how Netflix works when you try to use your subscription when someone else is also viewing – it gets annoying and it doesn’t work. 

Preventing downloads

To make sure that 1-viewer at a time works there needs to be a restriction on downloads, otherwise it’s all wasted time. So with the access controls within HelpRange you can set the document viewer to not allow downloads. This helps, especially for multiple page documents which would require someone to scroll, screenshot and compile together into a final document. 

IP Lock & Tracking

Another way to restrict movement of your documents is to lock access to a specific IP address. This ensures that the document cannot be downloaded and can only be viewed by accepted IP addresses. This ensures that you keep the document within a set group of people, so if there is a leak of the document link, it still cannot be opened if it is outside of the IP address.

There are also document metrics that show you the IP location, OS, browser and referral link that a viewer of the document used. This is essentially a fantastic picture of ‘who’ is viewing your document.

Conclusion

Ultimately you need to choose what best suits your needs. If you need full-blown watermarking then a downloadable DRM might be the option. Realistically you need to look for something that is affordable and easy to use so that you do not get lost in the technical details of sending out your sensitive documents.