How to Share and Track a Secure PDF

PDFs are widely used in business settings and are a common way to share information between employees and clients. It’s a file format that can be viewed regardless of the platform being used by the recipient, which makes it a convenient option.

However, this comes with the risk of sensitive information falling in the wrong hands as one emails PDFs around. Solutions such as Formrly’s have sought to solve this by developing a single platform to secure, share, and track PDFs.

So how do you go about effectively securing, sharing, and tracking PDFs?


Securing PDFs

1. Password protection

The easiest way of securing a PDF is through password protection. While this means only those with access to the password can view the PDF, a leak of this password can render this method useless. 

Furthermore, the channel by which the password is shared is rarely secure, adding to the risk that unwanted eyes view your PDF. That being said, password protection is the easiest way to secure a PDF. It can be done using Adobe Acrobat’s PDF reader and doesn’t require the installation of any third-party tools. This makes it the most common way of securing a PDF, but it’s not the most effective.


2. Digital Rights Management (DRM)

The second option of securing a PDF is to enforce Digital Rights Management rules on the PDF. This method will restrict what a reader can do with the PDF document, such as whether they can edit, copy, or share it. 

For example, by creating a PDF with DRM rules, there’s an option to limit what one can do with the file. By imposing restrictions such as printing hard copies, this reduces the chances of sensitive information being left around office printers by accident.


3. Watermarking

Watermarking has existed for centuries and there’s a reason this practice has stood the test time. 

First, the salient nature of a watermark across a document signals to the recipient that this is sensitive information. This saliency naturally acts as a deterrent from readers sharing the material.  

Second, watermarks on documents can have unique traceability attributes (e.g., a recipient’s email). If a document is leaked, it can be easily traced back to the original recipient. Today, advanced versions of watermarking are available for PDFs which can black out sensitive text automatically. For example, in the event a screenshot of the document was taken, the sensitive text will appear blacked out. This also improves readability for the user as the watermark will not be expansive and cover the entire document.


4. Document expiry or self-destruct

Another option to secure PDFs is to set a document expiry or self-destruct option. With this feature, one can ensure that access is revoked for a recipient on a particular date, or after a specified duration.

The revocation of access is another way of imposing the same security. If an employee were to leave the organization, it’s possible to revoke access for the PDFs shared with them.

The above methods of securing a PDF are not either/or options but should be used together. This ensures there are many security layers to the PDF, and limits the chances of the PDF landing in the wrong hands.

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Sharing and Tracking

With a secure PDF, one can now share and track the PDF as an added layer of control. 

When it comes to sharing a PDF, the conventional method has always been to attach the PDF to an email and send it out. However, with the growing popularity of cloud tools, it’s possible to share PDFs as unique links only intended for the recipient.

The benefit of such a sharing method is greater control and visibility on who can access and how it’s being used. After sharing a secure and traceable PDF, here are some ways to track its usage:

1. Notification on usage

Having the ability to be notified after sharing a PDF is a great way to monitor usage and follow up if needed. 

A tracked PDF can highlight whether a recipient has downloaded the file and read it. Moreover, tracking can help show usage patterns and highlight any anomalies that could be potential security lapses. For example, if a recipient based in the U.S is suddenly shown accessing the file from China – this can be flagged as a potential security breach.


2. Analytics on recipient activity

Tracking also enables analytics to be performed on the shared PDF.

For example, one could see what percentage of total recipients have read a particular PDF and have automated reminders sent out. Similarly, in a sales setting, one can measure the receptiveness of different sales documents that have been distributed. Additionally, it’s possible to track any PDFs that have been shared further from the intended recipient.

This application of tracking analytics can also be carried out at all levels – all the way down to page by page insights showing which aspects of the PDF material is more engaging.

3.Update access privileges in real-time

In the above sales scenario, if a PDF is shared beyond the initial intended recipient, then solutions such as those offered by Formrly can allow for real-time access restrictions to be updated. This can smooth the process of document sharing and also keep one in the loop on who is viewing their circulated information.

A seamless tool that provides the ability to do all this and more is Formrly. With Formrly, you have access to an intuitive dashboard that can be used to secure, share, and track in real-time how recipients are using your documents. Get started today!


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