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Choosing a security method for PDFs

  1. Acrobat User Guide
  2. Introduction to Acrobat
    1. Access Acrobat from desktop, mobile, web
    2. What's new in Acrobat
    3. Keyboard shortcuts
    4. System Requirements
  3. Workspace
    1. Workspace basics
    2. Opening and viewing PDFs
      1. Opening PDFs
      2. Navigating PDF pages
      3. Viewing PDF preferences
      4. Adjusting PDF views
      5. Enable thumbnail preview of PDFs
      6. Display PDF in browser
    3. Working with online storage accounts
      1. Access files from Box
      2. Access files from Dropbox
      3. Access files from OneDrive
      4. Access files from SharePoint
      5. Access files from Google Drive
    4. Acrobat and macOS
    5. Acrobat notifications
    6. Grids, guides, and measurements in PDFs
    7. Asian, Cyrillic, and right-to-left text in PDFs
  4. Creating PDFs
    1. Overview of PDF creation
    2. Create PDFs with Acrobat
    3. Create PDFs with PDFMaker
    4. Using the Adobe PDF printer
    5. Converting web pages to PDF
    6. Creating PDFs with Acrobat Distiller
    7. Adobe PDF conversion settings
    8. PDF fonts
  5. Editing PDFs
    1. Edit text in PDFs
    2. Edit images or objects in a PDF
    3. Rotate, move, delete, and renumber PDF pages
    4. Edit scanned PDFs
    5. Enhance document photos captured using a mobile camera
    6. Optimizing PDFs
    7. PDF properties and metadata
    8. Links and attachments in PDFs
    9. PDF layers
    10. Page thumbnails and bookmarks in PDFs
    11. Action Wizard (Acrobat Pro)
    12. PDFs converted to web pages
    13. Setting up PDFs for a presentation
    14. PDF articles
    15. Geospatial PDFs
    16. Applying actions and scripts to PDFs
    17. Change the default font for adding text
    18. Delete pages from a PDF
  6. Scan and OCR
    1. Scan documents to PDF
    2. Enhance document photos
    3. Troubleshoot scanner issues when scanning using Acrobat
  7. Forms
    1. PDF forms basics
    2. Create a form from scratch in Acrobat
    3. Create and distribute PDF forms
    4. Fill in PDF forms
    5. PDF form field properties
    6. Fill and sign PDF forms
    7. Setting action buttons in PDF forms
    8. Publishing interactive PDF web forms
    9. PDF form field basics
    10. PDF barcode form fields
    11. Collect and manage PDF form data
    12. About forms tracker
    13. PDF forms help
    14. Send PDF forms to recipients using email or an internal server
  8. Combining files
    1. Combine or merge files into single PDF
    2. Rotate, move, delete, and renumber PDF pages
    3. Add headers, footers, and Bates numbering to PDFs
    4. Crop PDF pages
    5. Add watermarks to PDFs
    6. Add backgrounds to PDFs
    7. Working with component files in a PDF Portfolio
    8. Publish and share PDF Portfolios
    9. Overview of PDF Portfolios
    10. Create and customize PDF Portfolios
  9. Sharing, reviews, and commenting
    1. Share and track PDFs online
    2. Mark up text with edits
    3. Preparing for a PDF review
    4. Starting a PDF review
    5. Hosting shared reviews on SharePoint or Office 365 sites
    6. Participating in a PDF review
    7. Add comments to PDFs
    8. Adding a stamp to a PDF
    9. Approval workflows
    10. Managing comments | view, reply, print
    11. Importing and exporting comments
    12. Tracking and managing PDF reviews
  10. Saving and exporting PDFs
    1. Saving PDFs
    2. Convert PDF to Word
    3. Convert PDF to JPG
    4. Convert or export PDFs to other file formats
    5. File format options for PDF export
    6. Reusing PDF content
  11. Security
    1. Enhanced security setting for PDFs
    2. Securing PDFs with passwords
    3. Manage Digital IDs
    4. Securing PDFs with certificates
    5. Opening secured PDFs
    6. Removing sensitive content from PDFs
    7. Setting up security policies for PDFs
    8. Choosing a security method for PDFs
    9. Security warnings when a PDF opens
    10. Securing PDFs with Adobe Experience Manager
    11. Protected View feature for PDFs
    12. Overview of security in Acrobat and PDFs
    13. JavaScripts in PDFs as a security risk
    14. Attachments as security risks
    15. Allow or block links in PDFs
  12. Electronic signatures
    1. Sign PDF documents
    2. Capture your signature on mobile and use it everywhere
    3. Send documents for e-signatures
    4. About certificate signatures
    5. Certificate-based signatures
    6. Validating digital signatures
    7. Adobe Approved Trust List
    8. Manage trusted identities
  13. Printing
    1. Basic PDF printing tasks
    2. Print Booklets and PDF Portfolios
    3. Advanced PDF print settings
    4. Print to PDF
    5. Printing color PDFs (Acrobat Pro)
    6. Printing PDFs in custom sizes
  14. Accessibility, tags, and reflow
    1. Create and verify PDF accessibility
    2. Accessibility features in PDFs
    3. Reading Order tool for PDFs
    4. Reading PDFs with reflow and accessibility features
    5. Edit document structure with the Content and Tags panels
    6. Creating accessible PDFs
  15. Searching and indexing
    1. Creating PDF indexes
    2. Searching PDFs
  16. Multimedia and 3D models
    1. Add audio, video, and interactive objects to PDFs
    2. Adding 3D models to PDFs (Acrobat Pro)
    3. Displaying 3D models in PDFs
    4. Interacting with 3D models
    5. Measuring 3D objects in PDFs
    6. Setting 3D views in PDFs
    7. Enable 3D content in PDF
    8. Adding multimedia to PDFs
    9. Commenting on 3D designs in PDFs
    10. Playing video, audio, and multimedia formats in PDFs
    11. Add comments to videos
  17. Print production tools (Acrobat Pro)
    1. Print production tools overview
    2. Printer marks and hairlines
    3. Previewing output
    4. Transparency flattening
    5. Color conversion and ink management
    6. Trapping color
  18. Preflight (Acrobat Pro)
    1. PDF/X-, PDF/A-, and PDF/E-compliant files
    2. Preflight profiles
    3. Advanced preflight inspections
    4. Preflight reports
    5. Viewing preflight results, objects, and resources
    6. Output intents in PDFs
    7. Correcting problem areas with the Preflight tool
    8. Automating document analysis with droplets or preflight actions
    9. Analyzing documents with the Preflight tool
    10. Additional checks in the Preflight tool
    11. Preflight libraries
    12. Preflight variables
  19. Color management
    1. Keeping colors consistent
    2. Color settings
    3. Color-managing documents
    4. Working with color profiles
    5. Understanding color management

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For a full list of articles about security, see Overview of security in Acrobat and PDF content.

By adding security to documents, you can limit viewing, editing, printing, and other options to only the specified users.

Choosing which type of security to use

Security features range from relatively simple measures to sophisticated systems adopted by corporations and agencies. Which feature you choose depends on what you want to achieve. Here are some examples:

  • You want only certain people to view your PDF. The easiest solution is to add a password to the PDF and send it to your intended recipients. (See Add password security.)

  • You don’t want anyone to print or edit your PDF. You can block printing and editing from the same dialog box that you use to add a password. (See Add password security.)

  • You want to assure your recipients that the PDF is really from you. The best way is to purchase a digital ID from a certificate authority. Alternatively, you can create a self-signed digital ID if you are communicating with a group that you trust. (See About digital IDs and Securing documents with certificates.)

  • You want an organization-wide security solution for PDFs. You can devise a solution specifically for a company handling sensitive data. Some organizations use Adobe LiveCycle Rights Management ES to apply a policy to documents. The policy contains the list of recipients and their individual set of permissions. Individuals can use a policy to apply the same security settings to numerous documents. (See Securing documents with Adobe LiveCycle Rights Management ES.)

Security policies

A security policy enforces systematic constraints on information flow and exchange within an organization. You can use Adobe LiveCycleRights Management ES to apply a policy to documents without the need for digital signatures and certificates. If you often apply the same security settings to PDFs, consider creating a security policy to simplify your workflow. Different policies are useful for accommodating different requirements.

Envelope policy

You can secure multiple documents by embedding them in a PDF envelope. You can encrypt envelopes to prevent unauthorized users from accessing the contents and certify them to provide proof of origin. Authorized recipients can open the envelope and extract the files to view them.

LiveCycle Rights Management ES policy

Adobe LiveCycleRights Management ES policies are stored on a server, and users must have access to the server to use them. Creating these policies requires specifying the document recipients from a list on Adobe LiveCycleRights Management ES.

Password and certificate policies

Save your password or certificate settings and reuse them to encrypt PDFs without setting up the password or certificate for each instance.

Protection required:


Require a password to open a PDF, or copy or print its contents

Select See all tools > Protect a PDF. Under Advanced Options in the left pane, select Encrypt with Password.

For a PDF Portfolio, select Protection > Security properties from the hamburger menu  (windows) or Select Document Properties from File (macOS). In the Document Properties dialog box, select the Security tab. Select the dropdown next to Security Method, and then select Password Security. In the Password Security - Settings dialog box, select Require a password to open the document and enter the password. Once done, select OK

If your company is signed up, you can also use Adobe LiveCycle Rights Management ES to secure documents.

When you use Action Wizard to apply security to PDF Portfolios in Acrobat Pro, the child documents are secured, but the cover sheet is not.

Indicate that you approve of the PDF content

Sign and certify the PDF. You must obtain a digital ID to add digital signatures. Buy a digital ID (see the Adobe website for security partners) or create a self-signed one. See Create a self-signed digital ID.

For Asian languages, you can add an approval stamp.

Prevent forms from being tampered with

Use LiveCycle Designer to secure forms and create locking signature fields. See the Adobe LiveCycle Designer Help.

Send secure file attachments via email

Use security envelopes. (All Tools > Protect > More Options > Create Security Envelope.

Allow only the people you specify to view a PDF

Choose All Tools > Protect a PDF. Under Advanced Options, select Encrypt with certificate, or apply security using Adobe LiveCycleRights Management ES. You must have certificates for users who can view the documents.

Additional resources

For more information on using security features, see these resources:

Choosing security methods within FIPS mode (Windows)

Acrobat and Reader provide a FIPS mode to restrict data protection to Federal Information Processing Standard (FIPS). FIPS mode uses FIPS 140-2 approved algorithms using the RSA BSAFE Crypto-C Micro Edition (ME) cryptographic module.

The following security options are not available in FIPS mode:

  • Applying password-based security policies to documents. You can use public key certificates or Adobe LiveCycleRights Management ES to secure the document. However, you cannot use password encryption to secure the document.

  • Creating self-signed certificates. To create a self-signed digital ID, it must be saved to the Windows certificate store. You cannot create a self-signed digital ID that is saved to a file.

  • RC4 encryption. A PDF file can only be encrypted by using the AES encryption algorithm when in FIPS mode.

  • MD5 or RIPEMD160 digest methods. In FIPS mode, only the SHA-1 and SHA-2 families of digest algorithms can be used when creating a digital signature.

In FIPS mode, you can open and view documents that are protected with algorithms that are not FIPS compliant. However, you can’t save any changes to the document using password security. To apply security policies to the document, use either public key certificates or Adobe LiveCycleRights Management ES.

FIPS mode is configured in the Windows registry by a system administrator. For more information, see the Digital Signatures Guide.


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