Adobe Digital Editions DRM

Adobe DRM & Digital Editions: Is EPUB & PDF DRM secure?

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Adobe Digital Editions – DRM for EPUB and PDF DRM Security

  What is Adobe Digital Editions?

The term Digital Edition has been applied to almost any work (book, picture, music recording, film recording) prepared in a digitized form.  For Adobe, the compound term means, “part of the end-to-end Adobe ebook platform for authoring, protecting, and delivering ebooks across devices.”

And the focus here really is the ebooks, specifically the PDF and (more heavily), the ePub format.

Though the ePub format was meant to be an open, vendor-free format, Adobe quickly became the main ePub DRM supplier.  Open formats like ePub are therefore not necessarily as “open” as stated, being contingent upon closed-source software to function at a commercial level.

  Adobe DRM for ebooks

Adobe ePub is a popular format for displaying e-books and it can be readily converted into the Adobe PDF document format (ePub to PDF).  It is far from perfect, however – with even Wikipedia listing methods to remove the ePub DRM security (Adept) from Adobe Digital editions and its derivative formats.  These include Barnes & Noble, Kobo, and Sony.

During its relatively short life so far (at least, as compared with physical books) Adobe Digital Editions has gathered a number of adherents, and copies in this format are still being sold at the time this article was published.  So, it seems that the failure of the DRM technology itself has not completely turned the market against the format.  Adobe Content Server is used as the host management system, but available hacks of the Adobe ePub DRM system were widely available from the offset.  Adobe announced with Adobe Content Server 5 & Adobe Reader Mobile SDK 10 an improved and hardened DRM solution to protect PDF and ePub files from unauthorized viewing – this basically forces users to use an eReader built on RMSDK 10 and above.  However, many ePub DRM removal products remove even this protection because they crack the ePub file directly rather than relying on a specific version of an eReader.

It is difficult, then, to obtain a secure ePub document, and ePub security continues to be problematic.  The concept behind Adobe digital editions, to be able to publish eBooks in a ‘standard’ format (ePub eBook or PDF eBook) and have them reproduced faithfully on a wide number of different platforms, is very good.  But the implementation of ePub DRM or PDF DRM using Adobe Digital Editions has not had a similar level of success.  ePub DRM has not proved to be effective, and whilst Adobe Digital Editions will continue to be used for its convenience, it may never provide effective ePub security or eBook DRM.

Is Adobe Digital Editions Secure?

No.  The DRM protection can be simply removed using Epubor, Calibre or similar software.  Users can convert Adobe Digital Editions to PDF and other unprotected file formats.  We show you how to do this in How to remove DRM from Adobe Digital Editions.

  Is Adobe Digital Editions free?

According to Adobe’s official webpage, Adobe Digital Editions is “available as a free download”.  This, however, is misleading. While the Adobe Digital Editions app is indeed free for consumers to download, the cost to publishers is significant.  You will need to pay for Adobe Content server to apply the DRM protection, which will set you back $10,000 for the initial license, plus $1,500 in annual maintenance fees, a development and deployment cost of $5,000-$10,00, and a $0.20 fee per ebook download.

All of this for protection that is not even effective.  Let’s compare this to a perpetual Locklizard Safeguard license:

Should you publish ebooks to PDF or ePUB format?

ePub or PDF?

Choosing the format you publish in (ePub ebook or PDF file) is very important, and comes down to whether you are willing to trade multimedia and interactivity for security and consistent appearance across multiple devices.

The ePub format (XHTML) was developed specifically for internet publishing:

  • It supports multimedia and interactive (ePub3) elements.
  • You can create responsive ebooks that resize automatically depending on the device they are viewed on.  Note, however, that it cannot handle text in multiple columns and tables may not display properly on different screen sizes.
  • It is much lighter than PDF, so it is better suited to smaller, less powerful devices.
  • Users can choose between many different ePub readers.  However, just like your choice of browser (Chrome, IE, Firefox, Safari, etc.) they all display content slightly differently.

The ePub format, however, lacks the cross-platform consistency of appearance (form and format) of the PDF and many subtler controls.

Most importantly, there are no solutions that effectively protect epub files from being shared and pirated.

Adobe ePUB DRM & PDF DRM, privacy concerns and ebook piracy

If you are concerned about ebook piracy, then Adobe DRM for ePub and PDF formats is not suitable.  It will not protect ebooks from piracy due to its insecure implementation and poor key management.

What protection are your ebooks getting against piracy and theft if the security can be easily removed?

  • If you type in ‘ePub DRM’ in Google – nearly all of the top 10 entries are dedicated to ePub DRM removal.
  • Type in ‘Adobe Digital Editions DRM’ in Google and all of the top ten results (apart from one for the Adobe site) are for instructions on how to easily remove it.

If you trust users not to use Adobe DRM removal tools, then you might equally trust them not to share your ebooks with others and therefore have no need to implement DRM protection to begin with.

Users have also expressed concern regarding Adobe collecting data regarding their reading habits and transmitting this information to Adobe’s servers in plain text.  This is another issue to consider if opting to publish for Adobe DRM, particularly with regulations such as GDPR and CCPA.

  Adobe DRM & Adobe Digital Editions Security

Adobe Digital Editions suffers from a history of critical vulnerabilities, which include repeated arbitrary code execution and information disclosure issues.  A list of Adobe Digital Editions Security issues can be found on Adobe’s website.  So, not only can Adobe DRM protection be easily removed, but forcing users to install Adobe Digital Editions could put their systems at risk.  You need to think about whether you want your brand potentially associated with such incidents.

How to remove DRM from Adobe Digital Editions

Removing the DRM from Adobe Digital Editions ebooks is not a difficult task.  The Adobe ADEPT DRM that Adobe uses for Digital Editions was cracked years ago.  Freely available software such as Epubor and Calibre’s DeDRM plugin exist without legal repercussions, relying on the fact that in many countries, DRM removal is legal under limited and specific circumstances.

The result?  It only takes a few seconds to strip the DRM from Digital Editions ebooks:

  1. Open Epubor and select the book you want to remove DRM protection from.
  2. Press “Convert to…”, select the file format, and wait for the program to output it to the defined folder.

Users can then print the document, send it to an unsupported device, or freely share it with others.  Epubor software can also be used to convert Adobe Digital Editions to PDF and other file formats when stripping the DRM.

Why Locklizard as a secure alternative to Adobe DRM?

Ebook DRM Security without Passwords or Plugins

Locklizard’s ebook protection software protects your PDF books from piracy regardless of their location.  We protect ebooks published in PDF format with US Gov strength AES encryption, public key technology, DRM and licensing controls.

  • Our PDF DRM software enables you to sell ebooks securely without insecure passwords or plug-ins, and enforce access, location, expiry, and usage controls.
  • Unlike Adobe DRM or Adobe Permissions, which can be easily removed, our DRM controls persistently protect your PDF ebooks regardless of location.
  • Ebooks are locked to devices so they cannot be shared with others.
  • Ebooks can be permanently and dynamically watermarked with user details.
  • No keys are exposed to users or interfaces (so they cannot be easily cracked or removed), and ebooks are only ever decrypted in memory – see our DRM technology.
  • Our easy-to-use administration system provides simple user and e-book management, and unlike passwords, keys are transparently and securely managed for you.
  • We charge no per-ebook fee and provide affordable perpetual licenses.

See our customer testimonials and read our case studies to see why thousands of organizations use Locklizard to sell their ebooks securely and protect them from piracy.  To prevent sharing of your ebooks, digital publications, and other digital content take a free 15-day trial of our DRM software.


What is Adobe Digital Editions?

Adobe Digital Editions is e-book reader software that supports the EPUB and PDF file formats.  It is used for acquiring, managing, and reading e-books and other digital publications.  Ebooks may or may not have DRM protection applied to them.

How do you print to a PDF from Adobe Digital Editions?

If the ebook’s publisher allows printing, you can print straight to a PDF file.  If this functionality has been disabled, you can instead use a tool like Epubor or Calibre DeDRM to convert the book directly to a PDF document.

How to copy and paste from Adobe Digital Editions

Though some publishers will allow copy and pasting inside Adobe Digital Editions, most won’t.  There are several ways you can bypass this, however:

  1. Use PDF DRM removal software and then copy and paste from the unprotected PDF.
  2. Screenshot the page(s) and run them through an optical character recognition (OCR) tool to turn them back into text.
Is Adobe Digital Editions safe?

Whether Adobe Digital Editions is safe at this exact moment is hard to say.  What we can say is that the Adobe Digital Editions software has suffered from numerous serious security vulnerabilities in the past, the latest of which (at the time of writing) allowed attackers to arbitrarily execute code on a reader’s PC.  Given Adobe’s additional very poor track record with security in Adobe Acrobat, it is perhaps best to exercise caution.

Can I read Adobe Digital Editions on my Kindle?

No.  Amazon Kindle uses its own DRM system and is not compatible with Adobe Digital Editions ebooks.  You can, however, read them on Sony, Kobo, or Nook e-readers.

Alternatively, some decide to strip the ebook of its DRM and convert it to a format that is readable by the Kindle (typically .mobi).  This is legally questionable.

Where does Adobe Digital Editions store books?

Adobe Digital Editions books can typically be found in the Documents/My Digital Editions folder.

Can I read a Locklizard-protected PDF on my e-reader?

No.  Locklizard requires you to view your PDF in its Secure Viewer application, which is supported on Windows, Mac, Android, and iOS.  You can also view protected e-books in your browser if the Publisher allows this.

Does ePub have its own built-in DRM?

No, Digital Rights Management is an optional layer that can be added on top of the ePub specification.  OCF, the container format for distributing ebook content, lays the groundwork for the common application of rights management, but is not DRM in itself.  It does not enforce or require a particular DRM scheme, which has led to some fragmentation and erosion of the ePub format as an open standard.

Does social DRM offer effective ebook protection?

Social DRM is not really DRM protection in the traditional sense.  It does not modify what a user can do with a document.  Instead, it adds visible and invisible watermarks that identify the reader.  These can be removed by editing the document’s code, and as a result, shouldn’t be seen as an effective copy protection method.

Can I use Adobe Document Cloud instead of Adobe Digital Editions?

Adobe Cloud should not be seen as a replacement to Adobe Digital Editions as it more of a glorified cloud storage service than a document security one. It uses standard Adobe PDF protection that can be easily bypassed.  You can find more information on this in the Is Adobe Document Cloud secure? section of our Adobe cloud analysis.

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