Resources » Working With PDFs (Advanced) » Guide to Locking, Unlocking, Protecting, Unprotecting PDF Files

PDFs are versatile, easy to share, and can be used for just about anything. Therefore, oftentimes we use PDFs for sensitive information that we don’t necessarily want everyone to have access to. Fortunately, PDFs have multiple levels of protection depending on what kind of security you’re looking for.

Cartoonish illustration for an article about how to password protect a PDF. Illustration is of three file folders, one of which has the word confidential on it.

Standard PDF protection allows anyone with access to use, but not edit, the document. This is good for when you need to distribute a document but don’t want people to edit it. 

Password protection means you require the people accessing the PDF file to enter a password before they can view the file. You can also restrict the user’s ability to print, change or copy text from a document, in case you’re worried about the information being distributed or tampered with. You can even lock all but a specific part of a PDF where the person accessing it can make edits. This is particularly useful for things like proposals and contracts. 

Certificate Security is for extreme cases where the most sensitive documents need more than password security. This involves encrypting the document and identifying specific recipients who can access the file. You’ll need to find a third-party security certificate service that will encrypt and provide identity verification services. The PDF will be completely inaccessible to anyone not identified as having access. 

While you won’t be able to set up certificate security on your own, you can password protect your PDFs on most Windows and Mac devices.

How to Lock a PDF Online

Upload your PDF to PDF.Live’s PDF editor. To the right, you’ll see PDF Editing Tools. Select Password Protect, and then choose your options. PDF.Live allows you to require a password to open a document, to restrict access, to print and for encryption. 

default settings for pdf live's option to password protect your pdf file
screenshot of pdf live showing how to password protect a pdf file

How to Lock a PDF with Mac and Windows

Password protection for PDFs using Apple computers

Mac devices have built-in password protection features that require the person accessing the PDF to enter a password in order to open the file. You can also require a password for the person to print, copy text, and add annotations.

Using the Preview app, open the PDF you want to protect. Then choose File > Export. If you want a separate version of the PDF to be encrypted, enter a new name for the PDF. 

Select the Permissions tab and then select one of the following options: 

  • Set password for opening the PDF: This will make users unable to open the document without a password.
  • Set permissions: You can select checkboxes next to the actions that you want to restrict. For example, you can require a password for printing or changing the document. 

Enter a password in the Owner Password section. There may also be a box that says Encrypt that you can select for an extra layer of security. Then click apply and save the document. 

Password protection for PDFs using Windows computers

Windows devices require Microsoft Word to password-protect a document. You’ll need to open the document in Word to do this. If the document is already the PDF, you will need to open the PDF with Word to do this. The document will be converted into an editable .doc or .docx, so make sure there aren’t any formatting issues before exporting. 

(You can understand now how it is much easier to simply use PDF.Live to lock, restrict and password protect your PDFs.)

Using Word, select File at the top left corner and then look for Export and then select Create PDF/XPS. You can select Options at the bottom of the window that appears prompting you to name and choose a location to save the PDF. In the options window, enable Encrypt the document with a password, which will then prompt you to enter a password.

When you’re done, select Publish, and the document will be saved as a Password encrypted PDF file. 

Note that there is a slight difference between password protection and encryption. Encryption scrambles and hides the data until a password is entered, meaning it will be obfuscated even further. This is useful for more sensitive information, as a password protection will only hide the document until you enter a password. It’s a good extra level of security, but not always necessary.

Both of the above options have encryption built in. 

How to Unlock a PDF

If you’ve created a password-protected document but, for whatever reason, no longer need a password on it, it’s fairly easy to remove. Here are some options for unlocking or removing a password from a pdf. 

Assuming you have the password, you can enter it to view the document and open it on your PDF viewer of choice. Then, select Print and save a duplicate copy of the new PDF. If you’ve selected printing or viewing encryption when securing the document, you will be unable to do this. 

If you have your printer settings restricted, you’ll need to open the PDF on an app like Adobe Acrobat, where you can edit the security permissions of a PDF. To do this, go to Permission Details or the Document Properties sections and select the Securities tab. In this, you’ll see your document has Password Security as the security method. You will need to change this to No Security. Then, save the document. 

Even if you’re not using Adobe Acrobat, most PDF viewers will have a security section where you can change the security settings of a document to remove a password. 

While you should never be trying to get into a PDF that you weren’t officially given access to, losing the password for a document can be a legitimate issue. If you lose the password for a secured PDF, you may need to search around for a PDF password cracker. These services will, after some time, open up your PDF to remove the password and view it online. These services range in credibility and take a lot of time to crack open a PDF, so it’s important to write down the password or use an easy-to-remember password for your documents!