How To: Copy Protect PDF Files

This article will outline PDF protection along with the available options. Before we get into details, here are some important points to remember:

  • Encryption differs from copy protection. Encryption, a technology solution, allows the PDF owner or user to assign a password to the document. Once that password has been entered, the user can do whatever they wish with the file. Print, share, or screen captures the file. The idea behind encryption is to make the document inaccessible until you enter a password.
  • Copy protection does not require a password. Anyone can see the file. The file cannot however be copied, printed out, shared, or screenshot. Copy protection allows the PDF to be viewed by anyone. However, the file cannot be edited or copied. This solution is most commonly sought by people looking for PDF protection.

The open standard for PDF is Portable Document Format. This simply means that the document format could be used in any document reading program. The PDF specification was designed to be universal. It’s not as easy as one would think to make a PDF file copy-protected.

Adobe Reader is preinstalled in Windows. Windows also comes pre-installed in Adobe Reader. This code allows you to open PDF files. Even if Adobe Reader was removed or not installed on your machine, the underlying code will still work to open a PDF. Adobe Reader is the number one PDF reader, but there are many other PDF readers. All of these readers have the same goal, which is to open and then read a portable document.

Adobe copy security solutions are notoriously easy to crack. Google “Adobe crack copy protection” will return pages of information about how Adobe security systems can be compromised. Here and here were two examples of Google search results that included web pages dedicated to hacking.

The lack of controls in PDF viewing is the core problem with copy protection. A PDF content owner (you) does not have control over Adobe Reader or other tools to prevent the user (your client/customer/student) from printing, screen capturing, sharing, and storing.

A PDF copy protection solution is an arrangement that allows the PDF to easily be opened and viewed. However, you (the content creator) retain complete control over the document.

Adobe Reader, Foxit Reader, etc. will not give you the tools to stop a user from printing or saving directly from within their program. However, we require a “reader” (or “viewer”) with controls to block these functions.

This makes it difficult to provide readers with security functions. Most users who receive a pdf do not wish to download another program to view it. can ruin the beauty, ease, and beauty of a pdf. The PDF format is no longer portable. Hackers may also be able to download software to view a PDF. This allows them to reverse engineer the file. The PDF must be viewed/read by something other than a viewer/reader that is secure.

How To Copy Protect PDF Files? Associating PDF files with physical objects is the most secure way of copy protecting them. Some solutions can be done with the software only, but these are not as secure.

Nexcopy’s Copy Secure USB flash drive is a physical device that offers copy protection to PDF files, without needing to install a program. The actual solution is a copy protection device, not a copied file. This is true as the physical device acts as the key to controlling the viewing of the document.

Copy Secure drive has a secure PDF reader. It is locked and coded to the device. Even though the viewer program runs directly from the flash drive, hackers won’t be granted access to the tools necessary to unlock the PDF or manage it.

Copy Secure works with both Macs as well as Windows. The PDF viewer automatically launches from USB, making it easy to view and navigate the document. The PDF file can still be downloaded as a portable document.

Printing is not possible with the viewer. It doesn’t support screen capture, sharing, or saving. The USB drive is followed by the PDF and the file can be accessed from any computer. The PDF can be accessed from any computer without the need for a secure viewer. Simply insert the Copy Secure USB drive into the USB slot and click on the file. Everything runs from the flash disk.

If you need to have additional digital rights management, there are additional features that one can use. Copy Secure provides a time expiration function for the PDF. This prevents the client/customer/student from viewing the PDF beyond a certain date. Copy Secure gives you the option to make sure that only sensitive data is visible in a PDF. This means, there are now two layers of protection the content owner has: First, the client/customer/student must enter the correct password before the PDF is displayed. Second, once the PDF has been displayed, the file is still protected from copy, meaning that even the most trusted person cannot print or save it.

As we were researching for our article on PDF copy security, we discovered several products that are also worth mentioning.

Adobe – They may be a solution. After a quick Google search, however, we found that many other hacks can be used to solve the problem.

PDF2GO- Although this is a great online service, the cost for medium to high quantities was very high. This solution is best for a unique need.

LockLizard-This solution is expensive for medium and large business models.

Let’s conclude: It’s very attractive to have a physical device tied to the security of PDF documents. Nexcopy solutions are best if the PDF content proprietor has a business model which directly links intellectual property and revenue. Their website has videos explaining how the technology works and videos showing end-users how to access protected PDF files. Adobe is such a large company that its security solutions have been compromised throughout the years. The other software-only solutions, PDF2GO & LockLizard (which are a bit more costly), are best suited to very short-term or very limited needs.

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