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Setting up security policies for PDFs

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    7. Setting up security policies for PDFs
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For a full list of articles about security, see Overview of security in Acrobat and PDF content.

Types of security policies

If you often apply the same security settings to multiple PDFs, you can save your settings as a policy that you can reuse. Security policies save time while ensuring a consistently secure workflow. Creating policies for password and certificate security lets you reuse the same security settings for any number of PDFs. Two kinds of security policies are available:

  • Organizational policies are especially useful if you want others to have access to PDFs for a limited time. Adobe Experience Manager - Forms Server (Document Security) policies are stored on a server. Users must have access to the server to use these policies. Creating these policies requires specifying the document recipients from a list on Adobe Experience Manager - Forms Server (Document Security). Adobe Experience Manager - Forms Server (Document Security) controls access to PDFs and auditing events as defined by the security policy. You can use Experience Manager - Forms Server (Document Security) if your company has licensed the software and made it available to you.

  • User policies are created and applied by individuals. If you apply the same security settings to numerous documents, you can save time by creating a user policy. Then, apply the user policy to documents. User policies for passwords and public key certificates are stored on your local computer. With access to Adobe Experience Manager - Forms Server (Document Security), you can create a user policy that’s stored on the Forms Server. That policy is available only to you.

How organizational policies are authenticated

In addition to reusing security settings, policies stored on Adobe Experience Manager Forms Server (Document Security) enable you to expire and revoke documents. You can also maintain accountability by auditing users who open protected documents.

Adobe LiveCycleRights Management
Security policies

A. Policies are stored on server. B. Policies are applied to a PDF. C. Users can open, edit, and print a document only if permitted by policy. 

Setting up server-based security policies involves four main stages:

Configure the Adobe Experience Manager - Forms Server

The system administrator of your company or group usually configures Adobe Experience Manager - Forms Server (Document Security), manages accounts, and sets up organizational policies. For more information on configuring Adobe Experience Manager - Forms Server (Document Security), see the Adobe website.

Publish a document with a security policy

An author creates a PDF and applies a policy stored on Adobe Experience Manager Forms Server to the PDF. The server generates a license and unique encryption key for the PDF. Acrobat embeds the license in the PDF and encrypts it using the encryption key. The author or administrator can use this license to track and audit the PDF.

View a document with a policy applied

When users try to open the secure PDF in Acrobat, they must authenticate their identities. If the user is granted access to the PDF, the PDF is decrypted and opens with the permissions specified in the policy.

Administer events and modify access

By logging in to an Adobe Experience Manager - Forms Server (Document Security) account, the author or administrator can track events and change access to policy-secured PDFs. Administrators can view all PDF and system events, modify configuration settings, and change access to policy-secured PDFs.

Create a user security policy

User policies can use passwords, certificates, or Adobe Experience Manager - Forms Server (Document Security) to authenticate documents.

The policies for password and certificate security can be stored on a local computer. Security policies created using Adobe Experience Manager - Forms Server  (Document Security) are stored on a server. You can audit actions and change security settings dynamically. You can use Adobe Experience Manager - Forms Server (Document Security) if your company has licensed the software and made it available to you.

Create a password policy

  1. In Acrobat Home, choose See all tools > Protect a PDF > Manage security policies

  2. Select New.

  3. Select Use passwords, and then select Next.

  4. Type a name and description for the policy, do one of the following, and then select Next:

    • To specify passwords and restrictions when applying this policy to a document, clear the Save Passwords With The Policy option.

    • To save passwords and restriction settings with the policy, select Save Passwords With The Policy.

  5. Specify a compatibility setting and password options. If you selected Save Passwords With The Policy, specify the password and restrictions. Select OK.

  6. Review the policy details, select Finish, and then select Close.

Create a certificate policy

  1. In Acrobat Home, choose See all tools > Protect a PDF > Manage security policies

  2. Select New.

  3. Select Use public key certificates, and then select Next.

  4. Type a name and description for the policy, and specify the document components to encrypt.

    Certificates must be current and have key usage that allows for encryption.

  5. Determine how to enforce the policy:
    • To create a policy that is associated with individual recipients, do not select Ask For Recipients When Applying This Policy.

    • To create a policy that is associated with individual documents, select Ask For Recipients When Applying This Policy.

  6. Select an encryption algorithm from the menu that is compatible with the recipients’ version of Acrobat, and click Next.
  7. Do one of the following:
    • If you select Ask For Recipients When Applying This Policy, review the policy settings and then select Finish.

    • If you did not select Ask For Recipients When Applying This Policy, specify recipients by selecting digital IDs (including your digital ID). Then select Next.

  8. Select Finish.

Creating policies for secure file attachments

You can add security to one or more documents by embedding them in a security envelope and sending it as an email attachment. This method is useful if you want to send a secure file attachment without encrypting the files. You can embed the documents as file attachments in a security envelope, and encrypt and send the envelope to the recipients. When the recipients open the envelope, they can extract the file attachments and save them. The saved files are identical to the original file attachments and are no longer encrypted when saved.

For example, when you send confidential documents, including non-PDF files, you only want the recipient to view the documents. You can embed these documents as attachments in a security envelope, encrypt the envelope, and send it by email. Anyone can open the envelope, view its cover page, and even view a list of the contents. However, only the recipient can view the embedded attachments and extract them.

Embed file attachments in security envelopes for secure transit
Embed file attachments in security envelopes for secure transit.

  1. Select  All tools > Protect a PDF. Select Create Security Envelope under ADVANCED OPTIONS.

  2. Select Add File to Send, select the documents you want to attach, and then select Next.

  3. Select an Envelope Template, and select Next.

  4. Select a Delivery Method, and select Next.

  5. If an envelope policy has been created, select it or select New Policy. Then, follow the steps to create a policy.

  6. Review the information and select Finish.

  7. For some policies, you are asked to type the information you want displayed on the envelope. Enter enough information to allow recipients to identify the sender of the envelope.
  8. Complete the security information (password, certificate, or policy).
  9. When the envelope is displayed, type the names of the recipients. Then, either select the Save or Mail icon in the toolbar.

    If you select the Mail icon, your default email program opens with the security envelope as an attachment. Type the email addresses of the recipients and send the email message.

Apply a policy to attachments in Outlook

You can send different types of files as secure PDF attachments in Microsoft Outlook. This option is available only if Adobe Experience Manager - Forms Server (Document Security) is set up and available in Acrobat.

  1. In Outlook, choose New Mail Message on the Home ribbon.
  2. Click the Attach As Secured Adobe PDF button  on the Adobe PDF ribbon.
  3. Select the file you want to attach by typing the file path or by clicking Browse.
  4. Specify how you want to secure the document, and select OK.

    The file is converted to PDF and encrypted using the security method you choose.

  5. Complete the email message, and then select Send.

Export security settings

  1. In Acrobat, select Acrobat from the upper-left(macOS) or the hamburger menu   (Windows) and then select Preferences > Security > Export.

  2. Choose which groups of settings you want to share and select OK.

  3. Review and modify the security settings as needed, and then select Export.

  4. Select the method to encrypt the security settings (if desired), and then select OK.

  5. Choose Recipients and select OK twice.

  6. Sign the file.

Copy, edit, or delete a policy

  1. In Acrobat Home, choose See all tools > Protect a PDF > Manage security policies.

  2. From the Show drop-down list, choose whether you want to display all policies you have access to, user policies you’ve created, or organizational policies.

  3. Select a policy, and then use the options you want:

    Options to edit or delete organizational policies aren’t available unless you have administrator rights to Adobe Experience Manager - Forms Server (Document Security). Changes to these policies can be made only on Adobe Experience Manager - Forms Server (Document Security), which opens automatically when you select an option.


    Use to create a policy that’s based on the settings of an existing policy.


    Editing a user policy that is stored on a local computer affects only documents to which the policy is applied after the policy is edited. For user policies stored on a server, you can edit the permission settings and other options. This option isn’t available for organizational policies.


    This option is not available usually for organizational policies.


    If this option is selected, a star appears next to the policy. To remove a policy from the favorites, click Favorite again. You can apply the Favorite option to multiple policies. Use this option to make a policy easier to retrieve.

Revoke a policy-protected PDF

To restrict access to a policy-protected PDF that you made available to a group of users, you can revoke the document.

  1. Do one of the following:
    • For a single PDF or a component PDF in a PDF Portfolio, open the PDF and log in to Adobe LiveCycle Rights Management ES.

    • For a PDF Portfolio, open the PDF Portfolio, log in to Adobe Experience Manager - Forms Server (Document Security).

  2. Choose All tools > Protect a PDF > Document Security > Revoke

  3. From the menu on the web page, choose an option that explains why you’re revoking the document, or type a message. If you’re replacing the revoked document, type the URL location of the new document.
  4. Select OK to save your changes.


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