How You Can Password-Protect Your PDF Files

If you’re looking for a way to protect your important documents that are sent online, you should learn how to password-protect a PDF.
Patti Croft, Author
Steph Trejos, Editor
Last updated Jan 12, 2023

If you exchange private documents or sensitive information online using the PDF file format, you may want to consider password-protecting the data. The PDF documents you send can contain links, fields, buttons, and even audio and video. You can also add places for the receiver to electronically sign for convenience and as a time-saving feature.

If you want to ensure your PDF document data is secure, you can use a password to protect it, even if you need to do so for free. Keep reading for tutorials on how PDF password protection works.

In this article
How does password-protecting a PDF work?
Password protection vs. password encryption
Steps to password-protect a PDF
How to password-protect a PDF for free
How to password-protect a PDF with Adobe Acrobat
How to password-protect a PDF in Windows
How to password-protect a PDF in macOS
How to remove password security on a PDF
How to remove PDF password protection on Adobe Acrobat
How to remove PDF password protection on Windows
How to remove PDF password protection on macOS
Password protection FAQs
Bottom line

How does password-protecting a PDF work?

A PDF is a Portable Document Format, which is a versatile file format from Adobe. You can show and exchange documents, no matter what operating system or software you have. It also doesn't matter what device or software the receiver uses.

You can create a strong password to lock the documents from other users. This security setting prevents unauthorized access to sensitive information.

There are also features like restricted permissions, which can restrict the editing and printing of these PDF files. If you don’t want the contents to be copied from your document, you can also prevent others from accessing that function. These features are known as document open passwords and permissions passwords.

Password protection vs. password encryption

When you use basic password protection, the people who receive the document and enter the correct password can access the file. Password encryption is a stronger security method because it turns the document contents into unreadable text. It’s similar to the way you’d encrypt email. A user must have an authorized key, which is a password or digital certificate, to read the contents.

If you use password encryption, you have two encryption options. You have the option to encrypt all document contents or to encrypt all document contents except metadata.

The Encrypt All Document Contents feature will encrypt both the document and metadata. When you choose this option, search engines can’t access the metadata. The Encrypt All Document Contents Except Metadata feature will encrypt the document contents but still allow search engines to access the metadata.

Adobe Acrobat Pro has advanced features you can use to edit, e-sign, and password-protect documents in an all-in-one PDF solution. If you want to try before you buy, Adobe offers a seven-day free trial.

Steps to password-protect a PDF

When you use these methods to protect your PDF, you should implement strong passwords for maximum security. We’ll show you how simple it is to password-protect your PDF to keep sensitive information safe.

You can also use a password manager to help with better security when choosing login credentials and using online accounts.

How to password-protect a PDF for free

If you want to password-protect a PDF but don’t want to pay for a subscription, you can use Adobe Creative Cloud storage to upload the file for free.

  1. Go to Adobe online tools.
  2. Click the button to Select a file.
    The Adobe online tools page to protect your PDF.
  3. Choose your file to upload.
  4. Enter a password and confirm.
    On Adobe online tools, the protect PDF page with a password entered.
  5. Click Set Password.

How to password-protect a PDF with Adobe Acrobat

  1. Open your PDF file in Adobe Acrobat.
  2. Select File > Protect Using Password.
    The File menu on Adobe Acrobat Pro.
  3. Choose if you want to set the password for Viewing or Editing the PDF.
    On Adobe Acrobat Pro, the Protect Using Password screen with Viewing selected.

  4. Type and confirm your password, then click Apply.
    On Adobe Acrobat Pro, the Protect Using Password screen with a password entered.

How to password-protect a PDF in Windows

  1. Go to the Adobe password protection online tools page.
  2. Click the button to Select a file.
  3. Create a password and confirm.
  4. Click Set Password.

How to password-protect a PDF in macOS

  1. Open the PDF on your Mac.
  2. Select File, then Export.
    On a Mac, the File menu from a PDF.
  3. You can either select the Permissions button or select Encrypt.
  4. Enter a password and verify. Then click Save.

    The screen for entering a PDF password on a Mac.

How to remove password security on a PDF

You can always choose to remove a password if you no longer need the security. You must know the password to the encrypted PDF to remove it. If you don’t know the password, you won’t be able to remove it.

How to remove PDF password protection on Adobe Acrobat

  1. Open your PDF in Adobe Acrobat.
  2. Go to Tools > Protect > Encrypt > Remove Security.
  3. Enter the password, then click OK.

How to remove PDF password protection on Windows

  1. Open the PDF document.
  2. Use the Printer drop-down menu and click the Save as PDF option.
  3. This will save a copy that doesn’t have a password.
  4. Enter a file name and location for the PDF.

If using Adobe Acrobat Pro:

  1. Open the PDF file in Adobe Acrobat Pro.
  2. Enter the password to view the file.
  3. Click the lock icon and select Permission Details.
  4. Click the Security Method box and choose No Security.
  5. Click OK.

How to remove PDF password protection on macOS

  1. Open the PDF file.
  2. Enter the password for the file.
  3. Select File, then Export.
  4. Rename the file in the Export As field.
  5. Uncheck the Encrypt field.
  6. Click Save.

Password protection FAQs


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How do I add a password to a PDF?

There are several ways to add a password to a PDF, depending on the device and operating system you use. You can also purchase an Adobe plan for more advanced protection.


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How do I password-protect a PDF file for free?

You can password-protect a PDF file for free by using the Adobe Acrobat online tool and uploading your file securely to Adobe Creative Cloud.


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Can I email a PDF with password protection?

You can email a PDF with password protection. The receiver will need to know the password to open and read the document.


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How do I password-protect a PDF without Adobe or Word?

You can password-protect a PDF without Adobe or Word by using the aforementioned free online tool. You can also use the Preview option on a Mac. Another way to password-protect a PDF is to use another online software.

Bottom line

If you are sending documents that contain sensitive information, you should consider password-protected PDF files. Using stronger passwords can help secure your data and ensure the appropriate people see the contents.

Sending files online is more convenient than mailing them. Sending secure PDFs will help keep information from reaching the wrong people. Follow our guide on adjusting your privacy settings for an even safer online experience.

Author Details
Patti Croft has a B.S. in Computer Information Systems and an MBA. She also worked in Information Technology for 16 years and loves everything tech and gadgets!