How To Password Protect PDFs on Windows, Mac and Web

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There are many reasons why you might want to password protect a PDF. It’s a sensitive work document that you don’t want anyone to see. Maybe it’s a proposal for a new project that you want people to read but not copy, or print. At the workplace, PDFs still rule, and this is how you can hold the key to it.

Understanding User and Permission Passwords

In the PDF spec, there are two kinds of passwords: User and Permission. A User password is just like a password for your PC. You need it to get in. If you don’t have it, tough luck big guy, you ain’t gettin in.

Permission Passwords are more like admin passwords. With a user password, you can get in and maybe access a subset of the features, but you’re not allowed to move the furniture around.

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Typing in a Permission password lets you do things like copy text from the document, print it out or to edit it.

So if all you want to do is stop someone from reading your PDF, but once they’re in they can do anything, go with a User password. A Permission password will guard the sensitive data in the document from leaking out. You can of course use both on a single document.

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

1. Preview on Mac

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

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


While the built-in functionality in Preview is surely welcome, it’s not enough for everyone. What if you don’t want to protect the whole PDF but just want to restrict copying text or printing it? Well, you’ll need a Permission password.

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Now, a tool like Adobe Acrobat will let you do this (Adobe Reader will not) but you don’t want to spend money on that. Not when you can get it done for free online.

Go to (make sure you’re using HTTPS protocol if the document contains personal details) to get started.

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

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You can select the exact permissions you want to provide for this document. You can have no restrictions, restrict editing pages or lock the whole thing down. While protecting a document, encryption also plays a big part. PDFProtect will let you choose between 40-bit RCA, 120-bit RCA and 120-bit AES. AES being the strongest, and the industry standard for this sort of thing.

Using the checkmarks, you can also disable copying of text.

When it comes to importing PDFs, you have a choice of Dropbox, Google Drive or your computer.

3. CutePDF Editor

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

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After you’ve loaded up your PDF, go to Security and first provide a master password and then a user password. You can check if you want to disable copying, editing and more from the options below.

Once that’s done, hit Save and you’re good to go.

4. PDFMate Free PDF Merger for Windows

It’s a handful name but it’s a free app for Windows that gets the job done. You’ll need to be cautious while installing this freeware though, for it tries to sneak in some crapware in form of Norton antivirus. On that installation page, click Custom instead of Express.

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Once it’s up and running, Add files using the button at the top. For us, that’s just one file.

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Below you’ll see options for Open password and Permission password. Check those fields and write in a password. By default, the app disables the copying, editing and printing features. But if you want to turn them on, there’s a switch. Click Build and your PDF will be generated.

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How Are You Hiding?

What’s your preferred way to hide files, documents or encrypt stuff? Let us know in the comments below.

Last updated on 02 February, 2022

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