Wibu-Systems Blog

Do you need stronger document protection?

Posted by John Browne on Mar 12, 2012 10:44:00 AM

With so much emphasis these days on DRM and software anti-piracy measures, it's easy to lose track of something relatively mundane in comparison: basic document protection. I'm not talking about spreadsheets or presentations, I'm talking about good old fashioned documents with pages and words. Like reports, manuals, proposals, contracts, and so forth.

Although there are a myriad of choices for document creation, I would hazard a guess that 95% of all documents (excluding email) are either a MS Word file or a PDF (for now I'm going to ignore Microsoft's XPS XML-based PDF competitor, like almost everyone else).

Now both Word and Acrobat come with some document protection, but it's not a terribly robust system to protect truly sensitive documents. Before we get into the details, why would anyone need document protection anyway?

Anytime you've got a document that could do harm if it fell into the wrong hands, you need strong document protection. Imagine you're a movie mogul working on the sequel to Avatar. The script is top secret! How to make sure the details aren't leaked? Document protection.

What about product specifications for the iPhone 5? You know how the rumor mills churn when any details on hot consumer products are leaked in advance.  Keeping those plans, specifications, and vendor contracts secret using document protection could save companies like Apple a lot of heartache.

As I said, both Microsoft Word and Adobe's Acrobat come with a way to protect a document with a password. So that's fine, right? Actually, no, because neither one offers really strong document protection with their password schemes:

  1. describe the imageFirst of all, there is no built-in requirement for password strength. Word will let you protect a document with a one-character password. As we all know, simple passwords are easy to remember, but also easy to share and easy to guess or discover.
  2. Second, some versions of MS Word store the passwords in plaintext inside the file. No document protection there, since a crack is completely straightforward. You can find tools to do this on the Internet. (Note: With Word 2010 they are using AES 128-bit encryption (way to go, Microsoft!) to protect their documents, so extracting the password is no longer feasible).
  3. Third, passwords and only single-factor authentication, and pretty weak single-factor authentication as well. Two-factor authentication is better and three-factor is the holy grail. The problem with passwords is they are extremely easy to share--and then anyone with the password can get into the document. If the password is hard to remember it's also harder to share, but easier to forget. So what do people do? They write the hard passwords down and store them in plain sight.

What to do?

Fortunately CodeMeter has a great solution for really strong document protection that doesn't rely on passwords. If you guessed that it relies on CodeMeter's CmContainer, you'd win the cigar. There's a couple of really great features about this system, which we call SmartShelter | PDF:

      • It's the only 3rd-party solution for enhancing PDF protection that actually integrates into Acrobat. So no 3rd-party PDF reader is required.
      • Once the document is encrypted, only a valid CodeMeter license will open it. File left on a stolen laptop? No problem, it's gibberish without the license. Somebody hacked your data center? No problem, protected documents can't be read, opened, cracked, or unencrypted without a valid license.
      • SmartShelter | PDF's licenses carry many of the same features that software licenses do, to wit: expiration date, unit counter, feature map, and more. Net result of that is you have a lot of control over how the document is actually used. You can even specify an activation date, before which the document can't be opened.

SmartShelter | PDF integrates into Acrobat Professional as an add-on. But anyone with a valid license (on a CmDongle or CmAct) can open the document inside Acrobat Reader.

Best of all, it's completely free! For more information, download the free whitepaper today.

Protect your PDFs!

Topics: CodeMeter, Document protection