PDF Protection 101: step by step

If you work with a large number of documents that contain sensitive or confidential data, you must pay special attention to their security. Both storing and sending digital documents securely are challenges for any organization. Fortunately, you have many options to protect these types of files. At the beginning it may seem difficult though, so we have prepared a short guide in which you can read about why it is worth protecting PDFs and how to do it.

Why is it worth protecting PDFs?

Digital documents often contain a lot of confidential information, sensitive data, and secret information that should not fall into the wrong hands. Sending important documents by email as an open attachment, let alone sending documents via social media messengers, is risky and could jeopardize your organization.

When you send documents by email, you have no control over them. You can’t know if the recipient received the message, opened it, downloaded and printed the shared attachment, made any changes to the document, or forwarded it. It may also happen that the message is not forwarded to the address it should be sent to. The email inbox itself does not have to provide security either, and may be vulnerable to hacking or viruses. On the other hand, an inbox with tight antivirus protection may redirect a message with an attachment to the recipient’s spam folder. Therefore, it is a good idea to protect your documents and other PDF files.

How to protect PDF documents?

The PDF format itself is more secure than other extensions such as Microsoft Word documents, Excel spreadsheets, and PowerPoint presentations. PDF cannot be easily edited without dedicated software. However, this is not sufficient security. To increase the security of your business documents, invoices, and emails, it is a good idea to look for additional forms of security, such as encryption, digital signatures, passwords, and watermarks.

The most popular methods of PDF protection

Password protection for PDF protection

As you can see, there are many ways to protect your documents. First and foremost, apply a password to your document. This option is offered by most text editors, such as Word.

In Microsoft Word, you can set a password for both a new document and an existing PDF document. Just open the file in the program and then:

  1. Select the File menu and the Save As tab. 
  2. Click the option to choose the location where you want to save the PDF file. 
  3. Then select the PDF (* .pdf) option. 
  4. There is an Options button in the lower right corner – click on it.
  5. Here you can select “Encrypt document with password” and click OK. 
  6. In the next step, you enter the password. 
  7. After returning to the dialog box, click Save.

You can also encrypt a document directly on MAC. You can do this in the Preview app and then:

  1. Select the File menu, click Export, then the Encrypt option. 
  2. In the next step, enter the password twice – in the Password and Verify box.

And it’s ready. You have a password protected file. Adobe Acrobat DC also offers a simple way to add passwords. However, as we mentioned earlier, setting a password is just the absolute minimum level of security for protecting files, so it is worth opting for broader solutions.

Watermarks for PDF protection

A watermark is a digital stamp that is placed inside digital content. It is most often added to documents containing confidential data and the protection of intellectual property. It prevents someone from making changes to or copying the contents of a PDF document. A watermark can simply be a confidentiality stamp, or show a company logo so that an organization can easily mark its documents.

Digital signature for PDF protection

If you want to be sure that, after the approval of a specific document or invoice, no one will be able to make changes and modifications, you can use a digital signature. This solution indicates that the file has been blocked by an authorized person. To create one, create a digital ID and then use it to digitally sign the document. We finish the whole process by saving the document.

Document encryption for PDF protection

An interesting way to secure your documents is to encrypt them with a key. Thanks to this, you can restrict the copying, printing, and viewing of PDF files. Most often, we use certificate security to encrypt documents. This includes public key encryption so that we can be sure of the author’s identity, and that only trusted people can access the file.

Common problems with popular methods of PDF protection

All of the aforementioned methods are commonly known and used. They provide greater security when uploading and archiving files, but they do not protect PDFs as well as they should. Documents, despite this protection, may be copied and used to the detriment of the organization they belong to. Other problems may be:

  • they present themselves unprofessionally, 
  • it is not possible to arrange watermarks aesthetically, 
  • recipients may have technical problems with the correct opening and reading of documents,
  • these are not intuitive solutions that ensure reading comfort, 
  • they negatively can affect the image of the organization and those responsible for them, 
  • it is not possible to fully track what is happening with the documents.

Fortunately, we have the ability to protect PDFs comprehensively and keep track of what is happening with important files.

Full control over documents: PDF protection with HelpRange

Broad protection and control over documents are guaranteed by programs such as HelpRange. In addition to protecting your files, you have access to digital rights management. The functionalities they offer include IP-based access to PDF files, which will allow you to precisely target the people who may have access to a file. You can also set to allow only one user to view a PDF file at a time or limit the number of views of the document. In addition, you can limit access to your document temporarily by setting the expiry date immediately or disable access at any time, as well as disable the ability to download, and print, a given document. With these options, you can protect your documents, e-books, or other files that should not fall into the wrong hands, against unwanted distribution. This prevents resultant damage that can be caused to a company as well as a financial loss that might be incurred.

How do document protection and tracking programs work in HelpRange?

Programs like HelpRange work very simply. You send prepared PDF files, documents, and e-books to the system. When you do this, you get two links. The first is a public link that allows you to safely browse and share the document with others. The file that is hidden under this link can be used, for example, as a customer acquisition tool in marketing. The second link, on the other hand, will be a private link that you can safely store and forward only to appropriate people. By using a private link, you can manage access controls and see all tracking stats for a particular document. 

In addition to protecting your documents, HelpRange provides additional functionalities that can help you better achieve your company’s goals. Thanks to them, you can control PDFs, have access to tracking statistics, and receive potential customers’ data. An important element of actions on documents is also the possibility of editing them, even after sharing them with other people. This allows you to update a file or make corrections later.

A few words of summary

Protecting PDFs is a mandatory task for every business and organization. We need to take care of digital documents in the same way as those in traditional paper form, if not even more so. Fortunately, digital files and documents that contain confidential information or sensitive data of our clients can be easily secured, protecting them against hacking attacks, viruses, or accidental disclosure to third parties thanks to passwords, encryption, and/or the use of watermarks. However, the best solution is to provide comprehensive protection and monitoring, which is guaranteed by programs such as HelpRange.