PDF Expiry

PDF Expiry – automatically expire PDF files, revoke access & self-destruct

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Creating expiring PDF files: Expire PDF documents & self destruct with Safeguard PDF security

How to expire a PDF file

Control how long PDFs can be accessed and used with PDF expiry. Automatically expire PDFs without useless PDF expiration date scripts – expiry controls are always enforced and cannot be bypassed.

Creating PDF files that expire with Safeguard is very simple. Right-click on your PDFs in Windows File Explorer and select the menu option ‘Make Secure PDF‘.

How to make a PDF expire

In Safeguard Secure PDF Writer, choose the expiry options you want to apply:

  1. Date – PDF expires on the date that you select here.
  2. After n days from first use – PDF expires n days after it is first opened.
  3. Views – PDF expires after it has been viewed n times.
  4. Prints – PDF expires after it has been printed n times.

You can select multiple expiry options – a fixed date and a number of days from first use, a number of views and/or prints.  Which ever option is reached first will cause the PDF to expire.

Expiry days, views, and prints are allocated on a user basis – so the same PDF file can expire at different times for individual users.

Once you have chosen your PDF expiry options, press the Publish button.

PDF Expiry on a user basis

You might want to set a PDF document to never expire or for user access to it to cease automatically on a given date.

You can expire PDFs on an individual user basis in the Safeguard Administration System – different users can be given different access periods to the same PDFs.

Fixed Date Expiry

Expire PDFs on a specific date

Days Expiry

Expire PDFs after a number of days after first open

Views Expiry

Expire PDFs after a number of views

Print Expiry

Expire PDF files after a number of prints

Expire Users

Expire user accounts on a fixed date

Revoke PDF access

Revoke access to users and PDF files instantly

Safeguard’s PDF Expiry Options: expiring PDF files

There are many reasons for creating PDFs that expire and why you may want to expire both documents and users.  Each has specific effects and controls, but they are not mutually exclusive and can be used in combination, and some may be changed after publishing the document or adding the user.

There are many reasons for creating PDF files that expire or even expiring both a document and a user. Document expiry and user expiry each have specific effects and controls that are not mutually exclusive and can be used in combination.

   Why have expiring PDF documents?

Reasons for having PDFs expire

Locklizard PDF DRM offers a number of ways of using expiry to automatically cease access to documents.  But why would you want PDFs to expire?

  • To deny access to obsolete versions of publications so that only authorized or current versions are used.
  • So that you can share PDF files securely with third parties knowing they will only be accessible for a limited period.
  • To sell documents that are accessible for a limited period at a lower cost than a permanently accessible version. This allows you to reach new markets that are price sensitive.
  • Expire PDF on a date

    The PDF will expire on a specific date (fixed date) for all users.

    1. you are licensing a training course or academic course which is valid for a period of time (e.g. 3 months or a term).
    2. you publish a business report e.g. market analyses, that is only valid for a specific period.
    3. you want to ensure the legal period of storage has finished.
    4. you need to make sure only the latest versions of documents are in use.
  • Expire PDFs a number of days after first use

    The PDF will expire at different times for different users.

    1. used when documents are offered for evaluation purposes.
    2. a different way of controlling training course materials that automatically calculates when the training timetable has finished (e.g. a course that runs for 30 days) rather than having to set a fixed date.
  • Expire PDF files after so many views

    Used when documents are offered for evaluation purposes (e.g. one view only).

    The PDF will expire at different times for different users.

  • Expire a PDF after a number of prints

    Used when only a fixed number of printed copies should be made (legal documents such as notice to quit or a rental agreement) and access is to cease when the printing is complete.

   Document Expiry

Safeguard’s expiry options enable document publishers to automatically expire PDFs so they can no longer be used after a certain amount of time.  The following options are available:

  • expire documents on a specific date
  • expire documents after a number of days
  • expire documents after a number of views
  • expire documents after a number of prints

These options can also be used together so that you can enter, say, a number of days/views/prints and a fixed date, with whatever occurs first causing the document to expire.  You may, for example, want a user to be able to use your documents for a 15-day trial period but have those documents expire on a fixed date regardless of whether the trial period has been used or not.

  How to set an expiration date on a PDF

To create a PDF file that expires on a date:

In the Safeguard Writer Expiry tab, select ‘Document Expires at” and then from the date selection dialog, select an expiry date (the date the PDF will expire on).

The PDF document will expire on this date for all users.

You can edit the PDF expiration date in the Safeguard Admin system if you want to change it at any stage.

  How to set a PDF expiry date for individual user access

You can set an expiry date on a PDF for individual users – in this case, access to the PDF can be set to expire at different dates for each user.

This is done from the Safeguard Administration system when granting user access to a PDF document:

  • Grant Limited Access
    Grants access to the document with specific start and end dates.  The dates you select will determine the time frame that the PDF document is made available to the user.

You can use this method to control PDF expiration regardless of whether you have set an expiration date on a PDF or not.

If a document also has a fixed expiry date then the ‘Until date’ cannot exceed that – in other words, you cannot extend access beyond a document’s expiration date.

  How to set PDF expiry in days

To create a PDF file that expires after a number of days from first use:

In the Safeguard Writer Expiry tab, select ‘Document Expires after” and then enter the number of days after which the PDF will expire.

The PDF document will expire after the number of days you enter here from when it was first opened.  This will be different for each user if they first open the document on different dates.

  How to make a PDF expire after a number of opens (views) or prints

You can make a PDF expire after a number of opens or prints – this is allocated to each user, so each user is given the number of opens or prints you set here.

In the Safeguard Writer Printing & Viewing tab, select the number of print copies and views allowed.

If you set both a view and print limit then expiry of the document will occur when whatever is reached first.

  User Expiry

Safeguard’s PDF protection gives you total control over when individual user access to your PDFs expire.  You might want to set your PDFs to never expire but have user access to them expire.

  1. You can expire user accounts and with it:
    • access to all your PDFs
    • access to only newly created documents.  You may want to, for example, give users access to documents during a specific time period, and let them be able to view those documents in the future, but not access any new ones you publish.
  2. You can suspend user accounts to stop users from using any documents that require a license check immediately.  This might be useful if the user is on holiday, temporarily in a location that is not deemed secure, or because they have changed their role/responsibilities.  It is reversible without changing the user’s rights to any protected documents.  You can expire authorized documents while a user is suspended, or grant access to additional documents, just as you wish.
  3. You can alter the user’s end date.  This is useful when a user:
    • changes job function but there is a continuing requirement for them to be able to access documents they had a right to use in their previous job function.
    • has a subscription (access to a publication where they automatically get access to documents in the publication as they are made available).  This means that they can use protected documents published before the user’s end date, but not those published after it.
  4. You can expire individual users’ access to a document by setting specific start and end dates for each document they have been given access to.

  Publication Expiry

Safeguard’s PDF protection enables you to control expiry to groups of documents (publications) on an individual user basis.  Different users will often require document access at different times (and for access to expire accordingly) depending on when they first purchased a product (say a training course) or when they were first given access to documents.

A user, for example, may have subscribed to one of your publications for a year, and all documents in that publication are accessible to them for a year.  After a year, they will still be able to view their existing documents, but not any new ones that are published after their subscription period has ended unless, of course, they subscribe for an additional period.

Users can be given access to multiple publications, each with its own expiry period.

  Revoke PDF access

Being able to revoke PDFs is an important part of any document security solution.

While PDF expiry options happen automatically when a certain time frame is reached, you may want to manually revoke access to PDF files to terminate access instantly.

There may be times when:

  1. the wrong document was published
  2. the information in a document is no longer valid or is incorrect
  3. a user has left your company
  4. documents have been provided on credit terms and these have not been met
  5. payment for an ebook or report etc. has had a chargeback made against it
  6. you think a specific document has been compromised

Revoking PDF files with Safeguard PDF Security

Safeguard’s PDF protection enables you to:

  • revoke PDFs instantly so all users’ access is terminated
  • revoke users so all documents they have access to become inaccessible
  • revoke individual user access to single or multiple PDF files

You can revoke access to PDFs at any time no matter where your PDF files are located.

NOTE:  To revoke PDF access instantly the document must be set to check with the administration system each time it is opened.  If you have created PDF files that only check with the administration system every n days then PDF revocation will only take place once a check has occurred.

  PDF self destruct, self deleting PDFs & self destroying PDF files

The ability to create a self-destructing, self-destroying, or self-deleting PDF file or document sounds like something out of a Mission Impossible movie – but it’s easily achieved using expiry controls to time limit PDF document access.  The end result is to make PDF files inaccessible after a period of time – the PDF file does not self-destruct or self-delete, it just can no longer be opened.

By applying expiry controls to a PDF document, access to it will automatically cease after a given time period.  This has the same effect as a self-destroying / self-deleting / self-destructing PDF file but is actually more secure since access is permanently removed.  If a self-destroying PDF / self-deleting PDF file is copied to another device, what file have you actually destroyed or deleted?  This is the same issue as the remote file deletion one – if a backup has been made then the deletion system is rendered useless.  With PDF expiry, the DRM controls remain with the file itself, so even if a backup is taken, the backup file will also automatically expire.

How to create a self-destruct PDF or make self destructing PDF files

See the section titled “Creating expiring PDF files: Expire PDF documents with Safeguard PDF security” which takes you through adding expiry controls to a PDF file.

  Expired PDF files and PDF expiry messages

Once a PDF file has expired it can no longer be opened.  Users cannot unlock or open expired PDF files.

When a PDF file has expired, an expiry message is displayed:

The email address is replaced with your own one so users know who to contact once the PDF has expired.

In Safeguard Enterprise, you can customize the expiry message with your own text.  Select the Messages tab in Safeguard Writer and enter your custom expiry message in the ‘show message’ dialog.

Alternatively, select the ‘navigate to URL’ option to load a web page in the user’s default browser once the PDF has expired.

Publishers selling PDFs may find customizing the PDF expiry message useful in soliciting for additional business once a PDF file has expired.  For example, you might want to direct users to a web page that enables them to purchase additional access or a new version.

  Can users remove PDF expiry or change the PDF expiry date?

No.  Safeguard PDF DRM enforces expiry controls for both online and offline files.  Users cannot remove PDF expiry or change expiry dates.

Unlike useless PDF expiration date scripts, expiry controls are always enforced and cannot be bypassed.

Removing PDF expiry & PDF expiration date scripts

Using an expiry date script to control PDF expiry is completely useless because:

  1. they can be bypassed by users not enabling JavaScript in their PDF Reader
  2. they are not supported by all PDF readers so users can just use one that ignores the script
  3. the JavaScript code does not work in Mac Preview so Mac users can view expired PDF files
  4. users can edit the PDF document and remove the PDF expiration date script
  5. even if you apply PDF password protection to restrict editing, users can remove these restrictions in seconds using PDF password recovery software

And that is before you even consider the security issues of enabling JavaScript in PDF Readers – generally a bad idea since hackers use JavaScript to deploy malicious payloads in PDF files.


Do Adobe PDF files expire?

No, PDFs protected by Adobe Acrobat do not expire.  Though there are some third-party scripts and plugins that claim to offer expiry controls, they are typically either easily bypassed or represent a major security flaw.  For more information see Adobe PDF Security Plugins.

Can you remove a PDF expiry date?

It depends on what you used to apply the expiry and how it implements the controls.  Adobe PDF expiry plugins can often be overruled by installing another plugin designed to break their security.  On other occasions, users just need to update their Adobe Reader to the latest version or disable JavaScript in their reader and the controls will break.  Alternatively, because Adobe Acrobat permissions are useless, the user can simply make a copy of the document before it expires.

Online PDF expiry solutions such as data rooms or cloud storage/collaboration platforms can usually be broken because they are enforced via JavaScript code in the browser.  As this code is executed primarily on the client side, the user can modify or disable JavaScript using their browser’s developer mode or a browser plugin to bypass copying and expiry controls.

Expiry dates applied with Locklizard, however, cannot be removed.  Users cannot make copies of the document via copy/paste, printing to PDF, screenshot, etc. and are unable to open their document once the expiry date has passed no matter what they do.

Can Calibre remove PDF expiry?

Yes, in fact, this is a common problem for libraries, which make use of Adobe Digital Editions.  Calibre’s DeDRM plugin strips all controls from a protected PDF, including expiry, and allows the user to convert it into whatever format they like.  This is basically a dream for pirates — they don’t even have to pay for an ebook to be able to share it for free on a mass scale.  So, authors and publishers beware – partnering with any library that uses Adobe protection will not be good for your bottom line.

Can users open an expired PDF?

No.  Once a PDF has expired it can no longer be opened.

You can, however, change the PDF expiration date on the Safeguard Admin system at any stage if you need to alter it – e.g. you need to extend the life of the document because of delays in delivering it or not updating it in time.

Are PDF expiry scripts safe?

Definitely not. As well as being easy to bypass, expiry scripts require JavaScript to be enabled in the reader application.  This is a tremendously bad idea because documents with malicious JavaScript can easily be distributed to users to execute malicious code.  See PDF security issues.

If a PDF file expires on a date, can you change it?

Using Locklizard Safeguard, the document Publisher can change the expiry date after distribution for all users or just selected users.  End users, however, cannot change the expiry date on a PDF.

How do you unlock a PDF document that has expired permissions?

You can unlock an expired PDF if it uses JavaScript for protection by disabling JavaScript in the application it is being viewed in.

You cannot open a PDF that has expired if it is protected with Locklizard Safeguard.  We do not use JavaScript to enforce expiry, so it cannot be disabled or removed.

Can you expire MS Office files with Safeguard?

No.  If you want to set PowerPoint to expire for example or make a Word document expire, then you have to convert it to PDF first and then add an expiration date using Safeguard.

   Download PDF expiry software

Download PDF expiry software that uses US Government strength encryption and digital rights management controls to create expiring PDF files – automatically expire PDFs after a given period of time and revoke PDF documents instantly.

  • Expire PDF files on a date
  • Expire PDFs after a number of days from first use
  • Expire PDFs after a number of opens (views) or prints
  • Expire user access to one, multiple or all PDFs
  • Revoke PDF files at any time

Safeguard PDF Security and Enterprise PDF DRM enable you to automatically expire PDF files and revoke PDFs instantly to ensure they remain totally protected regardless of their location.

Protect PDF files against copying, printing, editing, and unauthorized distribution.  Lock PDF files to individual devices and locations so they cannot be shared.  Watermark PDFs and track use.

Adding expiry dates to Excel spreadsheets

Locklizard can also be used to expire spreadsheets that you have exported to PDF – see how do I set an expiration date in Excel to learn why Excel’s expiry options are inadequate.

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