Restrict PDF Access: stop sharing, restrict editing, printing, copy & paste
How to Restrict PDF editing in Safeguard Secure PDF Writer
To restrict PDF editing
Select your PDF files, then in Safeguard Secure PDF Writer, choose the PDF restrictions:
- Stop printing, allow printing or limit the number of prints.
- Add dynamic watermarks to viewed and or printed pages. Dynamic variables replace actual user and system data when the document is viewed/printed so you only have to protect the document once for all users.
- Make the PDF expire on a specific date, after a number of views, after a number of prints, or after a number of days from opening.
- Stop screen grabbing (even from remote connections) applications.
- Log PDF views and prints to see if your documents are being misused.
How to Restrict PDF access in the Safeguard Admin System
To restrict PDF access
In the Safeguard Administration system you can:
- Select a user and choose the PDF files they can access
- Select a PDF(s) and choose the users who can access it
- Make PDFs expire at different times for each user
- Have different printing rights for each user – i.e. grant printing to some users but not others
- Control how many devices each user can view your protected PDFs on
Restricting PDF access to locations
Optionally lock users to locations – i.e. a country, workplace, etc. – so they cannot use protected PDF files outside this location. For example, you may want users to view protected PDFs on their mobile devices in the office but not at home.
PDF Document Restrictions: restrict PDF editing, sharing, copying, download, printing, saving, copy/paste
How to restrict PDF access & control use
PDF restrictions enable you to stop users from editing and making changes to PDF files, copying and pasting PDF content, printing, and saving PDF documents into unprotected formats (i.e. with all PDF restrictions removed).
Adobe was the first company that enabled Publishers of PDF files to restrict PDF editing, copying and printing, but controls could (and still can be) easily bypassed.
PDF Restrictions – A History
The original PDF restriction controls (provided to restrict PDF use) were designed before many of the PDF generation software we use today were in their infancy, and many did not exist at all. And that is why the ability to restrict PDF use has become more sophisticated over time.
Domestic printing systems were often a dot matrix printer (remember those?) where high quality was not an option, nor was colour or graphics. The focus was not on how to restrict PDF printing but getting it to work with all the emerging printing technologies. And laser printers were expensive in every sense for many years.
But all that has changed. Today making a high quality printed copy of a PDF document is trivial, and every PC has a key on it so you can get screen copies at the touch of a button.
So the ability to restrict PDF use has become increasingly important over time.
Adobe Acrobat and similar PDF Writer applications enable you to restrict PDF access, preventing only authorized individuals opening password protected PDF documents and restrict PDF use by applying a limited number of permissions (Printing, editing, copying content, extracting pages, filling in forms.). However, PDF restriction controls can be simply removed using freely available PDF password recovery programs, bypassed on a Mac, and removed using Google Drive. See removing PDF passwords. They are therefore completely useless and provide NO protection.
PDF restrictions – what do they do?
When we talk about the ability to restrict PDF files, what are we actually talking about? Here we describe the various levels to restrict PDF access, restrict PDF to read only, and restrict changes to PDF files.
Restrict PDF access
Preventing people from accessing a PDF document when they are not authorized to do so is achieved using encryption. A user must have a key to decrypt the PDF and use it. Commonly passwords are used to restrict PDF access but they have many weaknesses which including managability and security – see removing PDF passwords. Certificates can also be used to encrypt PDF files but they have to be managed. See using passwords or certificates to protect PDF files.
A more secure and simple way to restrict PDF access is to use a licensing control system where keys are never exposed to users so they cannot be shared. This is what Locklizard use.
Restrict PDF sharing
If you want to restrict PDF sharing you have to stop authorized users from making copies of PDF files which they can then distribute. This can be achieved by locking documents to machines or devices so that when copied to another device they will not open.
The sharing of protected PDF files is of no advantage to users if the recipients do not have the keys that are required to open them.
Restrict PDF editing
To stop or restrict editing of PDF documents you need to control document functionality that could be used to edit text and copy/paste content. This is the core basis of any PDF DRM system – stopping use of any functions that could be used to modify or copy content.
You may want to restrict PDF editing of content but let users add and edit annotations and fill in forms – PDF restrictions should be flexible enough to let you turn off all PDF editing or just allow annotation creation, editing and form filling.
Restrict PDF printing – disable or limit prints
The easiest way to restrict PDF printing is by controlling the ability of users to make printed copies (which could be scanned or photocopied). PDF DRM software achieves this functionality by disabling all print functionality.
Sometimes printing has to be allowed for operational reasons so you can enable unlimited printing or limit the number of times a PDF can be printed. If you enable printing then you might want to add watermarks to the print-out, either to make it difficult to scan or photocopy successfully, or to associate the name of the authorized user so that it is clear where the copy came from. See prevent printing.
Restrict PDF copying & copy paste
To restrict PDF copying and copy paste of document content requires more than just disabling the use of copy & paste functionality. An easy way to copy PDF content is to screen grab it so you need to control this.
Although users can take photos of anything visible on a screen, stopping screen grabbing prevents them from taking high-quality screenshots using software designed to do just that – see stop screen grabbing. You might also want to add watermarks to PDFs to discourage the ability of someone taking photographs of the screen images (perhaps with their mobile phone).
Restrict PDF download
The ability to restrict PDF downloads from websites is pretty useless. Once a user has downloaded a PDF file they can distribute to others as they see fit. What you need to restrict is the ability for unauthorized users to open PDF files and that is what a PDF DRM system does.
So don’t be taken in by sites offering to restrict PDF downloads or restict PDF files from downloading – they don’t provide any real protection against unauthorized sharing and distribution of your PDF files.
Restrict PDF from being emailed
This is exactly the same as the restrict PDF download issue. If you expect a specific email application to enforce this control, what happens if a user uses a different one? Even if you could restrict a PDF from being emailed, a user can upload the PDF to the cloud and distribute that way instead.
So again, it all comes down to restricting PDF access and controlling how keys can be accessed and used. A good PDF DRM system will lock PDF documents to authorized user’s devices, so even if they are emailed to others, they will remain protected and cannot be opened.
Restrict PDF online
If you want to restrict PDF use online (i.e. where they can be opened from) then you need to have the ability to lock PDF use to locations. You may want to restrict PDFs online for example if you have published a PDF document that should not be viewed outside certain countries or IP ranges.
Restricting PDF use to locations is important when considering BYOD since users will otherwise have the freedom to use confidential documents in unsuitable environments.
Restrict PDF saving
When we talk about the ability to restrict PDF saving, this means preventing users saving PDF files into unprotected formats (i.e. saving to unencrypted files and then remove PDF restrictions), such as converting a PDF to Word.
A PDF DRM system will have the ‘Save’ or ‘Save As’ functionality automatically disabled so all a user can do is create copies of the protected PDF file. It is also important that if you do not restrict PDF printing (i.e. you allow prints) that the PDF DRM system will automatically disable print to PDF and stop printing to other file formats.
Having PDFs expire on a set date, after a number of days use, opens or prints, enables you to restrict PDF use to a limited amount of time. This may be important for documents that have a shelf life or to comply with regulations. See PDF Expiry.
Revoke PDF Access
Revoking access to PDF files is a simple way to restrict PDF access to files that have already been distributed.
It is important to be able to revoke both PDF documents and users. For example, a user may leave your company and so you would likely want to revoke all their access, whereas you may want to revoke access to specific documents for existing employees. See revoking document access.
In conclusion, there are many reasons why you would need to restrict PDF access and use, but you need to make sure you use a PDF security program that:
- provides effective controls
- enforces those controls regardless of where PDFs are located
- prevents controls being easily removed by third party applications
FAQs – How to restrict PDF use
Do PDF certificates prevent restrictions being removed?
No. Regardless of whether you use a password or a certificate to encrypt a PDF, restrictions are always protected by use of a separate password.
This password can be easily broken using password cracking tools or the restrictions just bypassed by PDF readers that do not obey them.
How to restrict editing PDF without password?
Restricting PDF editing without using passwords is simple and secure with Safeguard PDF Security. There are no passwords to manage or for users to enter.
Safeguard PDF Security uses a secure licensing system to lock users to PDF files and decryption keys are securely and transparently delivered to the client device and locked inside an encrypted keystore. This is locked to the device so that it will automatically restrict PDF sharing.
Unlike useless Adobe permissions which can easily be removed in seconds, Safeguard PDF restrictions cannot be removed and are enforced regardless of where your PDFs reside.
How to restrict PDF book from sharing?
Any PDF DRM system will stop sharing, piracy and theft of your ebooks. By using a combination of encryption, DRM and licensing controls, you can secure distribute ebooks and protect your revenue streams.
See ebook security to find out how to restrict PDF books from sharing and misuse.
How do I stop a signed PDF from being printed or copied?
It does not matter here if you are talking about an electronic signature (an image of your actual signature) or a digital signature (one that is mathmatically calculated). Both types of signature are used to identify you as the document signatory, but both can be abused if a user can edit document content.
To stop a signed PDF from being printed or copied you need to apply PDF restrictions. Since Adobe PDF password restrictions can be easily removed (i.e. they are worthless) you should protect PDF files with PDF DRM software that does not use passwords to stop PDF printing, editing and copying.
How do I prevent watermarks from being removed?
If you add a watermark using Adobe, Word, or other Office or PDF applications, they can be easily removed. Users can just edit the PDF and remove all watermarks in a single action.
To prevent watermarks from being removed you need PDF DRM software to prevent users editing content. It should also stop users taking screenshots so they cannot easily remove watermarks in a Photo Editing software.
How do I protect my signature in a PDF file – stop it being copied, printed, scanned?
To protect your electronic signature or signature image from being copied in a PDF document, you should restrict PDF editing. This includes restricting PDF printing (to prevent your signature being printed and scanned) and restricting copy and copy/paste.
While a good PDF DRM system will also prevent high quality screenshots being taken by screen grabbing tools, it is important to bear in mind that users can still take photos of anything displayed on the screen with a camera. Although the quality of a photo may be poor, it is still a good idea to use a background watermark with your signature on top (so that it is hard to remove from the background image) – some Moire images may be useful for this purpose. See using document watermarks to deter copying.
Does a PDF digital signature restrict PDF editing & copying?
No. When you digitally sign a PDF document that just proves the document was signed by you. It can also be used to check if the document has been altered in any way, but it does not stop users editing PDF content or tell you what changes were made.
However PDF digital signatures are not as secure as you think – they can be bypassed or used in a manner that allows an attacker to add or change information in a digitally signed PDF document.
If you use a PDF DRM system to send protected PDF files to others then their is no need to digitally sign those files since they are encrypted (a modified encrypted file will not open) and you can restrict editing and printing and copy/paste so that no changes can be made.
How do I limit the number of times a PDF can be opened?
When protecting a PDF file In Safeguard Writer, go to the ‘Printing & Viewing’ tab and in the ‘Viewing’ section check the box ‘limit number of views’. The number you enter or select here limits the number of times the PDF can be opened. For example, if you set this value to 3 then you will limit PDF opening to 3 times for each user.
If you want to change the number of opens available for each user (on an individual user basis), you can do this by changing the number of opens in the Safeguard Administration System.
How do I limit PDF prints to once?
When protecting a PDF file In Safeguard Writer, go to the ‘Printing & Viewing’ tab and in the ‘Printing’ section check the ‘Allow Printing’ box and the ‘limit number of copies to’ box. The number you enter or select here limits the number of times the PDF can be printed. For example, if you set this value to 1 then you will limit PDF prints to once only for each user.
PDF limited printing controls can be changed on a user basis even after the PDF file has been distributed. You can also protect a PDF with zero prints (so printing is disabled for all users) but grant print access (and limit the number of prints available) to invidual users in the Safeguard Administration System.
Download PDF DRM software to restrict PDF access & use
Control document access and use with Locklizard PDF DRM security
Download PDF DRM software that uses US Government strength encryption and digital rights management (DRM) controls to restrict pdf access and control the use of PDF documents. Restrict pdf from printing or control the number of prints, expire PDF documents after a period of time or number of views, instantly revoke access, stop copying, sharing and screen grabbing.
Safeguard PDF Security and Safeguard Enterprise PDF DRM enables you to apply PDF restrictions to restrict PDF access, restrict PDF editing, printing, copying and saving. You can restrict and control access to your PDF files in one simple step. And unlike Acrobat PDF restrictions (permissions), Locklizard PDF restrictions cannot be removed by password removal programs.
Locklizard use US Gov strength encryption, licensing, and DRM controls to restrict and control access to your PDF files. We don’t use passwords, plugins or other insecure protection mechanisms, ensuring your PDFs remain safe regardless of where they reside. See our DRM technology.