The Basics of PDF Security

Like all things in the Digital Age, there’s a tradeoff between allowing easy access to information and protecting it from prying eyes. This is why there’s a whole spectrum of security options for PDF files available to you when using Foxit PhantomPDF. You can choose everything from using no security at all to applying various levels of password protection, encryption, and even rights management protection. Here’s a primer on how to decide which levels are best for your PDF documents.

Determine what level of PDF security you need

Your first step is to think about the foundational questions used to plot any good movie or book—namely, who, what, where, why, and how.

  • Who is the PDF document you’re creating for?
  • What type of information will your PDF document contain?
  • Where will your PDF document be sent, posted or archived?
  • Why will those accessing the PDF file need it?
  • How will they use your PDF document?

With answers to those questions in mind, it’s easier to decide how sophisticated you go with PDF security.

For example, if your PDF document is a description of your company’s history, you may decide to leave it unsecured and post it online for anyone to read.  On the other hand, if your PDF document is the complete specs for your company’s as-yet unreleased time machine, you may choose RMS security to specify different levels of permission, such as filling in forms, adding comments, printing, editing text, or deleting pages, for different people.

Your PDF security choices include:

  1. No Security, enabling your PDF document to be accessed by anyone with a PDF Reader. This is the default choice for mass distribution.
  2. Password Protection lets you add a password to a PDF document to limit ability to open the file (using a Document Open password) and restrict certain features (using a Permissions password), including:
    • Printing
    • Filling forms
    • Making comments
    • Managing pages and bookmarks
    • Modifying the document
    • Extracting content (such as text or images)
    • Changing encryption, password and security settings
  3. Certificate Protection lets you secure documents with certificates specifying unique permissions for each person. For example, you may allow your employees to fill out forms requesting parts for your company’s time machine in your Time Machine Spec Document PDF, but only you and the executive team are allowed to make changes to text, delete pages or change page order. Certificate protection only permits access to your PDF document by users whose identities can be verified and managed, so make sure everyone’s properly identifiable.
  4. AD RMS Protection (available in Business only) works with Microsoft® Active Directory® Rights Management Services information technology to help safeguard digital information from unauthorized use. Rights management dictates who can access sensitive information, what information they can access, and what operations they are allowed to execute (for example, reading, printing, copying, modifying, etc.).  It improves information security and meet compliance requirements.
  5. Redaction  (available in Business only) allows you to remove sensitive information from your document prior to making it available to others. This is a serious decision, however, because once you redact information, it’s deleted permanently. It’s the PDF equivalent of a crosscut shredder.

No matter which level of PDF Security you choose, you can create security policies that let you apply the same security settings to multiple PDFs, saving you time and effort in the future. Security policies include the security method, encryption password, permission settings, and more.

For full details on all the PDF security features available to you and how to use them, consult Chapter 9 in your handy PhantomPDF User Manual.

11 thoughts on “The Basics of PDF Security

  1. Dovid Nussbaum

    Hi, I don’t put any password or security on my documents, but often when I send my documents to others they are not able to edit the editable fields.
    Can you please help resolve this?

  2. CA

    When saving certain documents some form of password seems to automatically applied (not by the person saving, it seems the system is doing this some how!) when we then go to ‘Organize’ the document it asks for a Permission Password. How do you stop this automated password being allocated? When you look in Properties the security is set to Password Protection. If you try to change the settings it asks for a Password… which we don’t have.

    We have multiple users of the software in my office and it’s always the same document that everyone has this problem with.

    Andy ideas??

    Other than this ‘glitch’ the software is great

  3. Johnk4

    My brother recommended I may like this website. He used to be totally right. This post truly made my day. You can not consider simply how so much time I had spent for this info! Thanks! eefeeaaggakd

    1. FOXITBLOG Post author

      Within Foxit PhantomPDF, go to Protect remove security. Once you input the correct password , re save the PDF. This will remove the password permanently.

  4. Deepesh Prasad

    Hello Foxit Team,

    Can you please share the process of “password protecting” multiple files at once.

    Thanks already :]

    – Deepesh

  5. Dor Yunger

    I’m a work at a governmental organization.
    I’m interested in managing pdf document, by different permissions,
    Each user could edit his own comments which appear on the document.
    iIs there a tool or any other solution that can help me to define those permissions and show that comments by each user?


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