How Passwords Can Compromise Your PDF Security
Using a password is one of the most common forms of access protection. Consider the following illustrative example: A man has both a personal computer and a smartphone. He has passwords for logging on to each device as well as for logging in to his email and social media accounts.
But, what is actually more common is the fact that individuals will often use the same password or variations of the same one for all their accounts and devices. And, given the rising number of data breaches, it is clear that these passwords are not as effective as we think they are.
The same holds true for password protected PDF files. An unscrupulous individual can get access to a password protected PDF file by any one of the following means:
- Break the password encryption – An individual with some decent hacking skills can bypass a password within a two-hour period if 40 bit encryption has been used. If they want access bad enough, there is really nothing you can do to stop them.
- Steal the password – Sometimes the people entrusted with a password are not careful enough. For example, they could write down the password somewhere for easy remembrance and someone else might then see it and gain access.
- Get someone with a password to grant them access – This is not as far-fetched as some might think. Someone can just ask a person with access to share the password and the file. There is virtually no way to prevent this from happening or to track the breach once it has happened.
- Use PDF recovery software – While these programs are generally useful when data is lost, they can also be a pain in terms of PDF data security. The document in question will be recovered without any of its previous security restrictions, including the password. Thereafter, nothing stops the unauthorized person from reading the contents.
Considering all the above, you would think that people will find alternative forms of securing their documents. But, this could not be less true. We even partake in some action (either knowingly or unknowingly) which further compromises that security. Just consider how we select passwords. At such times, security is rarely foremost in our minds; we want something that will be easy to remember. For a hacker with the right tools and skills, bypassing such passwords can take less than ten minutes using a list of commonly known passwords.
To make them harder to bypass some demands have been placed on users. For example, password creation sometimes requires a minimum of eight characters with uppercase, lowercase, and numerical components. These requirements make it more difficult to create and remember the password and some people may opt to remove the password altogether (along with the hassle of having to remember it). Also, having to create a different one for each PDF document will not be easy. The PDF permissions password can always be broken with password removal software once a user has opened the document (i.e. either knows the password to open the document or there is not one set). Thereafter, copying and redistributing it will be a breeze.
So, what would be most effective is a security measure that does not require a password, while still preventing users from copying, modifying, sharing, and printing the PDF. Digital Rights Management (DRM) controls are ideal for this.
These controls allow you to encrypt a file using a specific key stored on a licensing server. Each time the device in question tries to access the document, the key will be transparently and securely relayed to the PDF Viewer to allow it to open. Alternatively, keys can be held locally in a keystore that is locked to the device so PDFs can be viewed offline. The keystore will not work if moved to another device and individual keys cannot be extracted. What’s more, the DRM controls will enable the PDF owner to set expiry dates and automatically revoke access once the time limit has been reached.
An advanced PDF security software will make all these things possible and allow people to cast aside ineffective and bothersome passwords.
So, what strategy do you follow to protect your PDFs?
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