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PDF Encryption

Here is the easiest way to send PDF files securely. This means contracts or tax returns or other documents can be saved as PDF files and securely sent to another person. I've moved most of my clients from Adobe's bloated, weak, slow PDF viewer to the free one from PDFXchange. My new systems no longer even have Adobe's reader on them, neither do any of my systems, so I'm not sure how or whether it can be done with that viewer but I doubt it. You can't do anything else with it.

I've written about it before, so you can search my newsletters for pdfxchange to read about it. Essentially, it is smaller and faster and has lots of functionality that Adobe's free reader does not have. One of the most important being able to fill in forms. I'm assuming that everyone can create PDF files using a free PDF printer driver like CutePDF or Bullzip PDF writer. Bullzip actually offers the option of encrypting your PDF file when you make it. However, with PDFXchange Viewer, you can easily add encryption (or remove it) from a PDF file.

Open the file you want to encrypt with PDFXchange viewer. Pull down the file menu and select Document Properties (or just use the CTRL-D shortcut).  This area allows you to control a lot of PDF features, one of which is security. Select the Security Tab.

Change the Security method from No Security to Password Security and a new menu will appear.

From this menu select at least Acrobat 7 compatibility. This means that if the reader is using Acrobat 7 or later (currently it is on 9.3.3) it can be read. The encryption available with Acrobat 7 is AES 128 which is very good and should be sufficient if you use a good password or passphrase. If you know your reader will have Acrobat 9 or a good current reader then you can choose Acrobat 9.0 or later compatibility which will do AES 256 which will keep the file secure well into the future.

You are offered some options on what to encrypt, but normally you want to encrypt the entire file.

There are two type of security you could want:

  1. You might want to restrict any access to the document so that without the passphrase you can't even view the document.
  2. You may only want to restrict the ability to change the document.

Check the appropriate box, fill in the passphrase and confirm it, then click ok and save the document.

Remember, you need to call the client and tell them what the passphrase is. Do not include the passphrase in the email you send with the document attached.

That's it. You can securely send PDF files over the Internet.

Date: July 2010

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