For nearly 20 years, the Portable Document Format or PDF, has been the de facto standard for the business industry’s documents, including exporters.
Initially exporters used the software primarily to view and share documents with colleagues, customers and prospects around the world.
Since then however, PDF technology has evolved considerably not only in its capability but also with regards to the security features the software boasts.
Exporters still use PDF technology today to view and share documents but it is also used extensively to edit, update and manage documents, quotes, contracts, correspondence and forms. So exactly how secure is PDF technology today?
Most PDF software solutions offer a choice of saving PDF files with either a 128-bit or 256-bit AES encryption.
The history of AES encryption is deeply rooted in American military history. The US army has a long-standing tradition in using cryptography. Initially 128-bit encryption was considered more than adequate to protect military secrets but as technology improved, the then 128-bit encrypted files became the victims of code-breakers.
Files carrying a higher encryption rating were very hard and slow to use, so the US military decided to encrypt files at three different key sizes depending on the security need – 128-bit, 192-bit and 256-bit encryption.
Using foresight as their guide, they developed capability that ensured a 128-bit encrypted file would be unbreakable even by future technology.
Password that would take a lifetime to hack
Today, PDF files encrypted with 128-bits remain considerably secure. It is also far quicker – up to 40 percent faster – to apply 128-bit encryption than 256-bit encryption. However, files encrypted with 256-bits offer greater security.
Breaking into a 256-bit encrypted file is extremely difficult and made harder by the use of longer passwords. A password such as, P35366SGGQ2344, would likely take a lifetime to hack. Many dedicated business PDF software solutions offer a choice of 128-bit and 256-bit encryption.
Apart from encryption, PDF software solutions offer additional security features that can be switched on or off depending on the level of security required.
According to Mr Craig Jennings, director of Imaging and Dragon Sales, APAC for Nuance Communications, PDF software has evolved to such an extent that it now offers exporters considerable choice when it comes to the degree of security attached to PDF files.
Range of security options
“When PDF software was first launched, document security was limited. Today however, most dedicated business PDF software solutions offer a range of security options that allow users to further protect their files. It’s all about flexibility and choice,” Mr Jennings explained.
Among the security features available are permission controls, FileOpen rights, Bates stamping, watermarking, and scan and mark. Permission controls allow exporters to determine the extent to which documents are protected.
Documents and contracts created in PDF format can be locked down completely or at different levels. For instance, a document can be locked down with a password but still allow editing or application of a signature. Alternatively, it can permit reading only privileges.
To prevent copying, forwarding, saving as or the searching of PDF files, exporters can simply enable FileOpen rights.
Another level of protection
With Bates Stamping exporters can create custom profiles for stamping information into headers and footers. This feature can be used by exporters to place identifying numbers, dates and time-marks on incoming documents. Bates Stamping can also be used to manage and track the firm’s own business documents and records. It provides identification and ownership, and therefore, allows another level of protection to be administered to documents.
Exporters can also choose to “watermark” documents to ensure that they are not used in any other way except for that which they are intended. Simple to apply, watermarks eliminate the possibility of draft documents and contracts being confused with the final version or documents marked confidential being accessed and incorporated into third party material.
Exporters can also use the scan and mark feature to scan documents and mark them with redaction (black-out) highlights, underlines or cross-outs. PDF files can also be viewed side-by-side and Meta data – which records the history of the document – can be removed prior to releasing PDFs if anonymity is required.
“There’s no doubt that PDF software today offers considerable security and far greater capability generally. For many exporters it’s really a case of assessing their needs and identifying the PDF solution that best meets these, while ensuring value for money,” said Mr Jennings.