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How to password protect a PDF before you share it

Sending a PDF email attachment has become a second-nature standard—but have you ever stopped to consider if a PDF file is really secure? Here's how to send a PDF that is secure and password-protected:
how to track secure pdf with password

Since its creation in the 1990s, the PDF has become a wildly popular electronic file format for everyone from professionals to students to retirees to children. Sending a PDF email attachment has become a second-nature standard—but have you ever stopped to consider how to password protect a PDF?

If you have, you’re in luck! In this guide, I’ll be reviewing how to password protect a PDF and track it once you’ve sent the PDF.

Option 1: Password protecting PDF files

Most professionals who send sensitive documents, such as CEOs and CFOs, assume that adding a password to a PDF sufficiently secures it—and in some cases, password protection does do the trick to secure your PDF.

How to add password protection using Adobe Acrobat DC

  1. Open the PDF in Acrobat.
  2. Go to File, then click “Protect Using Password.”
  3. You can set the password only for editing the PDF or for viewing it.
  4. Type your password, then re-type it.
  5. Click “Apply.”

How to add a password using Preview on a Mac

  1. Open the PDF in Preview.
  2. Go to File, then click “Export.”
  3. Enter the file name, then select “Encrypt.”
  4. Type your password, re-type it, then click “Save.”

What adding a password to a PDF accomplishes is limiting access to that PDF to those who know the password. What adding a password to a PDF doesn’t accomplish is viewer tracking. As the sender of that PDF file, you have no idea which recipients are opening and engaging with that PDF.

While we’re at it, you also can’t be certain who is forwarding the PDF and the password along to others. Suffice it to say, if you want to send a PDF securely by email, adding a password probably isn’t the best way. You’ve effectively lost control of a PDF document that you clearly wanted to control (hence the password in the first place!)—in this scenario, there’s no telling where that PDF and password could be forwarded.

The vulnerability associated with this approach may seem like a necessary evil for sharing important, high-stakes PDF documents—but thankfully, it’s not.

Option 2: Share PDF documents through DocSend

DocSend enables business leaders to send documents securely and track in-depth viewer engagement this includes a PDF. While sending a password protected PDF via Gmail or Outlook is what we’ve all come to know, you can send truly secure PDFs through DocSend’s Gmail plugin or Outlook plugin tools and track what happens to them—let’s walk through how.

If you’d like to follow along, you can get started with DocSend for free.

Step 1: Upload your PDF files to DocSend


Uploading files to DocSend is easy—DocSend currently integrates with Google Drive, Dropbox, Box, Microsoft OneDrive, and more, so you can drag and drop files from anywhere. Once you upload your PDF, you can attach it to as many emails as you’d like (with the Gmail and Outlook plugins). You can even upload your PDF directly through your chosen DocSend plugin, if you’d like.

  1. Go to your Content tab.
  2. Select ‘Add Content’ at the top right.
  3. Choose a file from any of the above-listed services or from your computer.
  4. Your document will begin to upload and let you know once it is completed. You can modify the name of the upload at this point.

Step 2: Create a passcode-protected link to share your PDF

how to password protect a pdf

When you create a sharing link for the PDF you’ve just uploaded, you’ll be able to specify whether you want to require an email to view and allow downloading. If you click “Show advanced options”, you’ll also be able to add an expiration date for the link and passcode protect the PDF.

You can then copy and share your link to your PDF in an email!

(Note: If you intend to track the engagement and forwarding of this link, you’ll want to create one link per account, lead, or individual with whom you’re sharing your PDF. More on that later!)

For an even more secure sending experience, Advanced users can require viewer verification. In this scenario, the viewer will be presented with a prompt to enter his or her email address, and will have to click on a link sent to that email in order to access the PDF.

You can also upload and attach your PDF to an email with DocSend’s Gmail and Outlook plugins

If you’d rather upload and share your PDF as an email attachment without leaving Gmail or Outlook, you can do so using DocSend plugins for Gmail and Outlook. Here’s the link to attaching an uploaded PDF using the Gmail plugin, and here’s the link to attaching an uploaded PDF using the Outlook plugin.

Step 3: Disable and re-enable link-based access as needed

With just a few clicks, you can moderate access to your PDF by disabling and/or re-enabling the DocSend links you’ve created. For a detailed walk-through of this process, check out our help center article on updating link settings.

How to edit and sign a PDF in Gmail? Easy, add an eSignature with DocSend

Once you have uploaded your PDF word document, file from Google Docs, Dropbox, the PDF documents you saved in Acrobat, or another workflow integrations in DocSend, you can add on eSignature right in DocSend before sending it out to streamline your process.

Within DocSend, you can sign PDF documents, or add electronic signatures, to individual files (not Excel or URL uploaded files), and files in a DocSend Space workspace. With Signable documents, users can convert and share documents securely from DocSend, giving users the ability to track visits and gather signatures on most devices. The eSignature feature allows one party to sign and is legally binding for both parties. After sending your signature requests, recipients can add their digital signature by clicking a link in their Gmail account, email signature, G Suite, a popup, sidebar, or other places you might share your document link. Signers can add their digital signature directly in the signature field you add to the PDF documents sent as a DocSend link. These PDF signed documents are tracked in your DocSend account with history and audit trails, so you can keep them secure and controlled. This also works in the DocSend mobile web version of Chrome and Safari in iOS and Android. This help center article will detail how easy it is to create and share signable PDF documents using the eSignature feature.

How to track your document

So, you’ve uploaded your PDF to DocSend, created a link with all the necessary security bells and whistles, and now you’ve sent it off—what next? If you care enough about the contents of your PDF to secure it, you probably also care about how it’s received and read.

If this is the case, I’ve got good news: by creating and sending out individual DocSend links for each recipient or group of recipients, you’re already on the road to tracking your secure PDF document. Let’s take a quick look at an example how you can monitor engagement.

First, you’ll receive instant read notifications when your document is viewed. A summary of these notifications will also be available in the “Performance” tab when you click on a particular file or PDF document in DocSend.

how to password protect a pdf
Furthermore, you’ll be able to see where viewers spent their time, on a page-by-page or slide-by-slide basis. Depending on the contents and purpose of the PDF, this can be incredibly enlightening. As is the case with read notifications, a summary of engagement is also available when you click on a particular file or document in DocSend.

how t password protect a pdf

There are a number of additional metrics and measures of engagement that you can track in DocSend. I encourage you to start your free trial of DocSend, send out that PDF, and explore the insightful performance indicators to your heart’s content!

Got a question about DocSend tools or how to best set up your account? Feel free to check out the DocSend Help Center or give our support team a buzz.