Password Security using Adobe Acrobat 8 or 9

Not long ago, I met an attorney who specialized in family law, especially divorce cases. The attorney had an issue come up with a client and wanted to know more about Acrobat security.

His client, the wife in the divorce proceedings, worked two jobs and had a hectic schedule. Email communication would have been the likely solution; however the husband and wife still resided in the same home and shared the same computer and email account.

What to do?

Sensitive matters make for concerned clients. Using Adobe Acrobat security, it is easy to password protect files from prying eyes.

All communications to the client were sent as encrypted PDFs which required a password to be viewed. This offered his client a high level of confidence that the spouse would not be able to open and read information sent from his office.

Read on to learn how to apply and work with password security.

Good Passwords

Take the time to consider the password you and your client will use.

If a password is easy to guess, your document is not secure.

Avoid using proper names or place names
e.g. Chicago, Donald

Don’t use number sequences that represent dates such as anniversary or birth dates:
e.g. 062079 (June 20, 1979)

For the most secure password, use a combination of letters, numbers and other characters. The password should be at least eight characters.

e.g. nMX8Yti6#

The password nMX8Yti6# would be very difficult to guess, but also quite challenging for your client to remember.

A compromise may be to use unrelated words and numbers.
e.g. play73maple

Communicating Passwords

Never email a password to a client.

It is best to relay the password over the telephone. Instruct your client to memorize the password. If the client forgets the password, they can always contact you via telephone.

Writing down a password is a security risk and should be avoided.

Many years ago, back during the days of the IBM 286, I worked at computer store. At this store, only one employee was allowed to use the cash drawer, either a manager or assistant manager. The point of sale system required a password to log on and during the busy holiday season might contain quite a bit of cash.

One day, about 1PM, I entered the store manager’s office with a slip of paper in my hand. “Is this yours?”, I said. He blanched a bit and immediately ran to the front of the store to change the password on the register!

It can happen to you or your client, so beware.

Acrobat Security Policy

Acrobat 7 greatly simplified the task of securing documents by allowing you to create security policies. A security policy allows for a two-click application of security to documents.

Creating a Security Policy

  1. To create a security policy, go to Advanced—>Security—>Manage Security Policies. Alternately, click on the Secure button in the toolbar:
  2. Click the New button
  3. Make sure that “Use Passwords is selected. Click the Next button.
  4. Give the Policy a name. Optionally, enter a description. For ease of use, make sure that “Save passwords with the policy” is checked. Click Next.
  5. Click the checkbox “Require a password to open the document”. Type in the password in the “Document Open Password” field. Click the Next button.
  6. Confirm the password and click OK.
  7. Click Next and then the Finish button.
  8. Click the Close button.

Applying a Password to a Document

Encrypting the document using a password is easy.

  1. Go to Advanced—>Security and choose the security policy you created above—or – click on the Security button in the Acrobat toolbar and choose a policy.
  2. Acrobat will ask you to confirm the security change. Click Yes.
  3. You’ll see the following message:
  4. Go to the File menu and choose Save.
  5. To check the security, reopen the document. You will be prompted for a password:

Checking Document Security

To view security settings, choose File—>Properties and click on the Security tab.

Removing Security

There are two methods to remove security:

Final Thoughts

If you have a large number of documents to secure, you can use Batch Processing in Acrobat Professional to apply security. This can be a great time saver.

You need to be careful about applying ordinary password security to PDF packages. When you apply security to a PDF package, security settings only apply to the PDF container document. The PDFs inside the package are not changes.

If you would like to secure several PDFs inside a Package, use the Security Envelope function. There’s a wizard for it on the Acrobat 8 toolbar under the security button.

Although PDF security can be very handy for client communications, you should not secure documents that are sent in response to discovery requests. Generally speaking, judges take a very dim view of discovery documents encumbered by security.