How to password protect PDFs on Mac, Windows and the web

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Pau Monfort
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There are many reasons why you might want to password protect a PDF. It's a sensitive business document and you don't want anyone to see it. Maybe it's a proposal for a new project, and you want people to read it but not copy or print it. In the workplace, PDFs continue to rule and that's how you can keep the key to them.

We will start with LibreOffice as it is an application that you can download for free on its website, then we will continue with Microsoft's office suite.

Understanding the user password and authorization password

In the PDF specification, there are two types of passwords: User and Authorization. A user password is just like a password for your PC. You need it to enter. If you don't have it, unfortunate boy, you won't get in.

Authorization passwords are more like administrator passwords. With a user password, you can log in and perhaps access a subset of the features, but you are not allowed to touch anything.

Typing in an authorization password allows you to do things like copy text from the document, print it, or edit it.

So, if all you want to do is stop someone from reading your PDF, but once they get in they can do anything, just go with a user password. An authorization password will protect sensitive data in the document from being modified. Of course you can use both on one document.

Let's take a look at the 4 apps that will help you encrypt your PDFs.

1. Via LibreOffice

The first thing you need to do to block PDF, is open the PDF file in LibreOffice. It doesn't matter with which tool you do it, because even if you open it with the Writer application, as an alternative to Word, the suite will always open the PDF with the LibreOffice Draw application which is used for the slides. And if you're going to do that by passing the text to PDF, the way to go in LibreOffice Writer will be exactly the same.

Whether you are going to create a PDF from a text file with Writer, or save an existing PDF opened with Draw, what you need to do is click on the File option in the top bar. When the menu opens, you need to click on the Export to PDF option which you will see in Export to.

When it comes to the export menu, do before click on the tab Protection (1) above. Inside, in the Encryption and file permissions section, click on the Set password button (2) that you will see on the left side of the screen.

To protect PDF from copying, you just need type the password you want and press the Export button from the PDF Options menu. You can do the first thing in the Set Password window, where you can put one to open and another to have editing permissions and then click OK. When you do, you will return to the PDF options, where you click Export.

2. Con Word

Word doesn't delegate PDF management to another Office application, so you can open them in this application or create them from a text document. Regardless of the path chosen, to proceed with saving with password you need to click on the File option in the top bar to enter the file menu.

When you enter the File window, in the left sidebar you need to click on the Export section. Once inside, click the Create PDF / XPS Document option and press the button with the same name to proceed to save the document you have as a PDF.

The window will open in which you will have to decide where to save the PDF and what name to put it. Don't save the file yet, click instead on the button options which you will see below, a little to the right inside that window.

A new window will open with options related to the document you are about to publish as PDF. In this window, select the Encrypt document with a password box that you will see below and click on the OK button.

3. Preview on MAC

As we said before, Preview is the hidden gem of OS X. It can do many things. One of the things it can do is export a document as a password protected PDF. To do this, first open the PDF in Preview, go to File and select Export or Export as PDF.

Then click the Encrypt button, type the password and click Export.

While the built-in functionality in Preview is certainly welcome, it's not enough for everyone. What if you don't want to protect the entire PDF but want to restrict text copying or printing? Well, you will need an authorization password.

Now, a tool like Adobe Acrobat allows you to do this (Adobe Reader doesn't) but you don't want to spend money on doing this. Not when you can do it for free online.

Go to (be sure to use the HTTPS protocol if the document contains personal details) to get started.

Here, click on the Advanced Options button and type in the password of the user or permissions. The great thing about PDFProtect is that it makes things easy.

You can select the exact permissions you want to provide for this document. You can't have restrictions, restrict page editing, or block the whole thing. While protecting a document, encryption also plays an important role. PDFProtect lets you choose between 40-bit RCA, 120-bit RCA and 120-bit AES. AES is the strongest and the industry standard for this kind of thing.

By using check marks, you can also disable text copying.

When it comes to importing PDFs, you can choose from Dropbox, Google Drive, or your computer.

5. CutePDF Editor

CutePDF Editor is an impressive PDF editor, especially since it's totally online. CutePDF also lets you encrypt files from here (but strangely not from their free desktop app).

After uploading the PDF, go to Security and provide a master password first and then a user password. You can control if you want to disable copying, editing and more from the options below. Once done, hit Save and you are good to go.

6. PDFMate Free PDF Merger per Windows

PDFMmate is a free Windows app that does its job well. However, you will need to be cautious when installing this freeware, as it tries to sneak in some crapware in the form of Norton antivirus. On that installation page, click Custom instead of Express.

Once it's up and running, add files using the button above. For us this is just a file.

Below you will see options like Open Password and Authorization Password. Check those fields and write a password. By default, the app disables copy, edit and print functions. But if you want to activate them, there is a switch. Click Create and your PDF will be generated.

Further Reading:

  • How to password protect a zip file and folder
  • How to change password on Windows 10
  • How to disable the Windows 10 lock screen
  • What is a WPA2 password? I'll explain it to you
  • How to compress files on Windows 10 (and unzip)

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