Most people believe a PDF has no security. And that might have been the case in 2000, but in 2022 there are so many ways to secure a PDF. Quite frankly, you should be securing all your PDFs with a dynamic watermark at a minimum. It’s just so easy for thieves to rip your content when you publish it as an unsecured PDF.
It’s a bad decision to publish an unsecured eBook. It’s a potentially illegal decision to publish an unsecured PDF that contains sensitive material.
Anyway, this article will cover six of those methods for securing files, why you should always secure a PDF, and answer some common questions about PDF security. We’ll also tell you the best use case for each security method.
Ways to Secure a PDF
There are more than six methods to secure a PDF. For brevity, I will cover six of the ones that I find the most useful. Just remember that there are more methods in the software than these six.
Set PDF Expiry Date
One of the most used methods for securing PDF files is setting an expiration date. Basically, most ebook DRM allows you to set a date for when the PDF can no longer be accessed.
You have options when setting the expiry date, too. You can choose to have it expire at a certain date or after a certain number of days from the first access of the PDF. Both those options work great for different uses.
When to use a PDF expiry date?
Here are some scenarios where it might be useful to have a set PDF expiration date:
- You are selling a product with a time limit on the license.
- You are publishing a report that is time-sensitive (ex. a weekly market report should expire at the end of the week to prevent confusion.)
- The PDF contains sensitive information, and you don’t want the party to have infinite access. This is usually the case in business negotiations.
It is actually possible to prevent the downloading of a PDF. Downloaders will still be able to view it, but they won’t be able to download it. This makes it perfect for eBooks and other files that you don’t want people to pirate. But to be perfectly honest with you, anyone these days can grab their mobile and take a photo.
When to prevent downloading a PDF?
Preventing users from downloading a PDF has some uses. Here are the best scenarios to prevent users from downloading a PDF:
- You want to publish an eBook, but don’t want people to download it.
- You have a website with PDFs that you don’t want to get pirated.
Limit download count
Limiting the download count is another way to secure your PDF. You set a certain amount of downloads, and downloading privileges will be removed when that limit is reached.
This security method might sound strange, but it does have some uses that I’ll cover.
When to limit the download count of a PDF?
We recommend limiting the download count of a PDF for a few very specific scenarios:
- You want a limited release of a PDF (ex. stock market guide).
- You want to create exclusivity to create hype.
First, a dynamic watermark is a watermark that dynamically appears on the PDF. The benefit of this is that the watermark can display text unique to the user. Many creators like to put user information (ex. customer email, name, etc.) in the dynamic watermark to prevent sharing via screenshot.
Don’t worry, the watermark will actually adjust to the viewable window, so the user can’t hide the watermark before taking a screenshot.
A dynamic watermark is, in our opinion, the most versatile way to secure a PDF. Sure, it won’t prevent piracy via sharing a download. But it will make it more difficult for users to share a screenshot since they will need to edit out their information.
When to place a dynamic watermark on a PDF?
As mentioned earlier, we recommend placing a dynamic watermark on every PDF that you want to protect because it’s just so easy. Here are some specific uses, though.
- PDFs that have a lot of images, maps, tables, or other data that is easy to screenshot.
- Any PDF you want to look more official such as those relating to business or legal matters.
Track PDF use
Tracking PDF use is not really a method for securing a PDF. However, it works as a great deterrent to prevent PDF abuse if users know that all use is logged, so it serves the same purpose as a security method.
This security method will log every time a user downloads, or views a PDF. It will also log the time, which definitely has its uses.
Tracking PDF use is another versatile method for securing a PDF. And there isn’t really a reason to not track PDF use – more data is always better.
When to track PDF use?
You should always track PDF usage if you have the ability. The more data you collect the better, but here are some good scenarios to track PDF usage:
- You work in an office with sensitive information.
- You want to check if people are opening or viewing your PDFs.
Note: Users will actually police themselves if you tell them that you are tracking PDF usage.
Revoking access to a PDF is one of the most basic, and effective, ways to secure a PDF. It simply involves denying a specific user the ability to view or download the PDF. It definitely has its uses, but it is a little limited.
When to revoke access to a PDF?
Revoking access to a PDF works best in office or business scenarios or ebooks. It does have other uses, though. Here are some of those uses:
- You have refunded a user’s license to access your PDF.
- An employee or freelancer no longer works for you, so you remove their PDF access.
- You have finished a business negotiation, and want to remove access to the PDF that details sensitive information.
Reasons to Secure PDFs
A common concern with securing PDFs is whether or not PDF security does anything. And it’s a valid concern. However, there are a few good reasons that you should secure a PDF. This section will cover some of those uses.
Protect Sensitive Data
First, securing a PDF will help protect sensitive data. For instance, you can have a PDF expire after a certain date. This is especially useful for sending personal data. You might have good IT security, but you might have a problem if the recipient never deletes anything.
Protecting data goes beyond that, though. If you send information to employees or freelancers via PDF, then you will have the ability to revoke access at any time. In the case of employees or freelancers, you will want to revoke access when that person no longer has any association with your company.
Protect Your eBooks
PDFs are a great way to share eBooks. Unfortunately, bad actors can also share your eBooks for free. Using the methods outlined above will mitigate some piracy.
In fact, protecting your eBooks should result in more money because you greatly reduce the risk of theft.
Securing a customer-facing PDF will add some credibility to your business. Customers will see a secure PDF and subconsciously think, “If they secure this, then my data is definitely safe with them.”
It sounds small and insignificant, but that is what customers will think. This is especially true in industries such as law, accounting, or insurance.
Track User Behavior
The great thing about computers is they allow you to track everything. And PDFs are no different.
You can track the views, downloads of the PDF. This can be used to secure your PDF if you inform users that you will track downloads and viewing. But you can also use this information to track when and how often people open your PDFs. Personally, we find this one of the more interesting ways to secure a PDF.
If you’re in Europe, then you’ve probably heard of GDPR compliance. You might not know how it relates to PDFs, though.
Basically, if you store customer data, then it has to be encrypted. This means you can’t store customer data on a plain PDF. You actually must store it on a secure PDF.
The fine is pretty hefty at approximately $20 million, so this is one law that you definitely don’t want to break.
Finally, securing a PDF will reduce piracy. Again, it won’t eliminate piracy, but it will help reduce it and make it more difficult for pirates to steal your content. For preventing piracy, if we need to choose just one method we would recommend dynamic watermark.
Frequently Asked Questions – Secure PDF
Here are some of the most frequently asked questions about securing a PDF.
How do I prevent users from taking screenshots of my PDF?
Unfortunately, there isn’t a way to prevent a user from taking a screenshot of your PDF. However, you do have some options for making the process of stealing intellectual property much more difficult such as placing a dynamic watermark with their name, email in it. Removing those would be a difficult and daunting task if your files have a lot of pages.
Will securing a PDF prevent piracy?
Securing a PDF will reduce piracy, but not prevent it. The sad reality is that there isn’t a way to prevent piracy. You can reduce the chances of piracy by properly securing your PDF, though. Reducing piracy equals more money too, if your files get pirated it doesn't mean it's the end and your file can no longer be sold. People on the internet don't join every pirate site. They join a few of those and if your files aren't there, you get more money.
Do I need to secure all my PDFs?
It depends on the information you place in the PDF. If the PDF contains sensitive information or is a paid product, then you should secure the PDF.
On the other hand, you don’t need to secure a PDF if you want as many people as possible to read it. For instance, you certainly want people to read your promotional eBook, so you don’t need to secure it with anything other than a watermark.
Will a secure PDF still appear in Google search?
Yes. A secure PDF will still appear in Google if the Google spider can reach it, which is likely. You can tell the Google spider to not crawl your PDF link for an extra layer of security, but that is probably overkilled. The Google spider will not steal your PDF. It will just index your PDF but not the content of it if it's password protected.
Does this work for securing eBooks?
Yes. You can use our software to secure an eBook – it’s actually recommended for securing eBooks. We provide a good way to dynamically watermark PDF files.
Can I secure a PDF for business purposes?
Yes. Securing a PDF for business purposes is a great use for this software.
I highly recommend securing a PDF that you plan on sending to a third party. It also works great for general use in an office because you have the ability to track PDFs, so you can ensure that only authorized personnel see files. Plus, you can revoke access if an employee no longer works with your company.
Well, that about covers it for securing a PDF. DynamicInk.co works best for securing eBooks and is actually meant for eBooks, but it will work for all PDFs.
The six different methods of securing a PDF should have you covered for just about any security need that may arise. And you can even secure the file using multiple different methods for added security.