Which Is Better For Encrypting PDFs Certificates Or Passwords

Should you use passwords or certificates to keep sensitive and private business documents from getting out or being used wrongly, or is there a better way?

When encrypting a PDF file, you can choose between password and certificate encryption. Here, we discuss options and a third, safer way to encrypt PDF files that use licensing controls and transparent key management.

Selecting the appropriate PDF security for your organization

Whether you choose one way to protect PDF files over another depends on why you need to protect them in the first place. The content could be sensitive or secret in business, like trade secrets or intellectual property, or it could be personal information that must comply with laws like HIPAA or GDPR.

You may need to share documents securely within your organization or want to share documents securely with people outside of your organization. Or maybe you sell things like ebooks, training courses, or reports that bring in money and want to ensure they can't be easily copied and stolen.

No matter why you want to encrypt PDF files, you should ensure that your method can't be easily bypassed or removed.

How does encryption for PDF files work?

When you use a password or a certificate to encrypt a PDF, this is used to protect the random key that is made and used to encrypt the PDF. So, if you choose AES 256-bit encryption, a 32-character random key is used to encrypt the PDF, and the password or certificate is used to keep that key from being easily found.

Once the PDF is encrypted (the encryption algorithm scrambles the document's contents), only the correct password (the one used to encrypt the PDF) or the correct private key (in the case of certificate encryption) will decrypt the contents and allow access.

Using passwords to encrypt PDF files

All PDF editing software lets you put a password on a PDF to make it more secure. It is part of the conventional PDF and is easy to use in PDF programs because it is part of the standard. You can also free encrypt PDF files with a password on many sites that protect PDFs.

Using Adobe Acrobat to put a password on a PDF file

Is PDF encryption with a password safe?

  • To answer this question, you should think about the following:
  • If you tell someone the password, they can decrypt the PDF and remove all security.
  • If you demand users to be able to open the PDF file, you have to give them the password. You must trust that they won't give other people the password or the unprotected PDF file.
  • Users can give other people the PDF and the password.
  • You can't stop people from sharing PDF files and passwords with others because no security locks keys to machines or devices.
  • You do not know how many people have used your "protected" PDF file.
  • Since the password is specific to the PDF file and not the person using it, you can't discover who is using it.
  • Password crackers can be used to get into a PDF that is locked with a password.
  • Even if a user doesn't know the PDF file's password, they can use a free password recovery program or cracker to try every possible password until they find the right one. This is called a "brute force" attack. The easier and faster it is to figure out a password, the shorter and less complicated it is.
  • You have to keep track of a list of PDF files and their passwords.
  • It's a pain in the butt to keep track of passwords. For obvious reasons, you shouldn't use the same password for every PDF file. Instead, you should keep a list of documents and their passwords and store it safely. This is also true for people who get PDF files that need a password to open.
  • Users need strong passwords that are easy to remember.
  • This is a usability problem in and of itself: how many people can type in a 16-character or longer password with uppercase and lowercase letters, numbers, and special characters?
  • It would help if you found a safe way for people to get the passwords.
  • Passwords must be sent separately from protected PDF files using a secure method. This could be done by using a program to encrypt files or emails so they can be sent to other people safely.
  • It would be best if you avoided weak implementations of backward compatibility.
  • For example, if you use Adobe Acrobat to encrypt PDF files, you should choose "Acrobat X or later" as the compatibility option. This is because Adobe made it much easier to break passwords with brute-force attacks in Acrobat 9. Instead of making 71 calls to check the password for AES 128-bit encryption in Adobe 8, it now only takes one call for AES 256-bit encryption.
  • So password protection might be an easy way to encrypt PDF files, and you don't have to deal with a complicated registration process as you do with certificates, but it's not very useful.

    If you still require a password to encrypt a PDF, follow the rules for choosing a strong password to protect PDF files so you can easily make one that can't be brute-forced.

    How to Encrypt a PDF Certificate

    You can also use certificate encryption instead of a password to protect a PDF.

    PKI includes certificates (Public Key Infrastructure). PKI is a way to find out who made an encrypted file and who the public identity of the recipient is without making it easy to use that information to break into the system.

    A user's public key and knowledge about when it was made, when it will expire, and what it can be used for are stored on a certificate. Certificates can be signed by a Certificate Authority (CA), which verifies the user, or the user can sign them. If the certificate is self-signed, it is up to you to trust that it belongs to the right person. Most organizations make their certificates unless they want to use them to talk to third parties securely.

    When you use an app to make a key pair, you'll get a certificate with your public key and a private key that you should keep to yourself. You can decrypt the information and sign files digitally with the private key.