An Introduction to PDF Encryption

There are many advantages to using PDF software when creating documents. Some people choose this type of application because it allows anyone, on any type of computer or device, to view their content. Others like the ability to collect data through PDF forms, while others still choose PDF software for its adherence to different standards for document preservation.

There is, however, another feature that is available through PDF software that is becoming increasingly popular as privacy and security issues make headlines; that is the ability to encrypt a PDF document to protect the content from those who should not see it.

Usual Protection Methods

There are several ways to protect sensitive information within a PDF document. Using your PDF software application, you have the ability to redact content so that others cannot view it. You can also password protect the file, which limits access to the document itself, or to certain features that you determine, such as restricting people with out authentication to print, copy or edit the document. Encryption is yet another manner of protecting a document’s content. Here’s how it works.


When you use encryption, the content of the document is scrambled to the point where it’s unreadable even if it’s successfully opened by using a public encryption key. Only those with the corresponding private key can decrypt the file to view what’s inside.

PDF software works with third-party encryption certificates as well giving you the ability to specify unique permissions for each recipient. For example, one key may allow the recipient to edit the document while another key only allows them to fill out the form or digitally sign the file.

Another form of encryption that works well with PDF security is RMS encryption. PDF software such as PhantomPDF works with Microsoft Active Directory Rights Management Service (RMS) to control permissions to documents and features within the PDF itself through a plug-in that’s compliant with Active Directory RMS 2.1.

In a PDF software application such as PhantomPDF, the way to encrypt the file is through the permission settings. Here you have the option of selecting the encryption algorithm (128-bit, 256-bit AES, and 128-bit ARC-FOUR) and whether or not to encrypt the metadata; encrypting this will make it so search engines cannot access the metadata to more easily find the document.

Using Encryption

Encryption makes it so that a person cannot access a file’s content without the key and the reasons for using it seem clear in most instances. Obviously, personal or private information such as health records or financial statements benefit from this type of protection, however there are less obvious types of content that benefit from encryption as well.

As stated, there are times when content might be acceptable to view, but there are other features that need to be locked. You may want a team to review content but not edit it, or you may need them to fill out an evaluation form but not change other parts of the document’s content. Using encryption, you can block access to edits allowing the recipient to only fill out the form while also protecting the user’s replies with the PDF software’s encryption capability.

Many consider encryption a strong security measure to use with PDF files, which is why encryption should be a part of your overall security plan when it comes to protecting sensitive information.

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