Nonprofit Accounting Basics

Information Security and Privacy (Part 2)

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In the past week, you likely have done more than one of the following:

  • attached files to email messages
  • placed files on a thumb drive or laptop
  • created a contract or completed a form for printing and signing
  • saved Word documents or Excel files in PDF format
  • added comments, annotations, or a signature image to a PDF file

If your email attachment is opened by the wrong person, the thumb drive is lost or stolen, the PDF file is modified, or the PDF comments are removed or replaced, you may be at risk or responsible for the outcome whether the actions were inadvertent or intentional.

Password Protect and Secure a PDF File From Content Modification

Without securing your PDF files using password-protection features, your PDF file’s content can be altered and edited.

Adobe Acrobat includes a Save As feature to convert PDF files to Word documents. Even if you scan your PDF files as images, without setting protection features, someone could use the Optical Character Recognition feature and potentially access the individual characters. And now Microsoft Word 2013 software has a new feature that will seamlessly open and convert PDF documents to Word format for editing. And Word can save a file to PDF format.

To password protect and secure a PDF file from content modification or conversion to a Word document, follow these steps:

  1. With a PDF open in Adobe Acrobat, click the File menu, select Properties, and then select the Security tab.
  2. In the Security Method drop-down box, select Password Security.
  3. Under Permissions, check the box next to “Restrict editing and printing of the document.” To allow printing, select High Resolution in the Printing Allowed drop-down box. If the PDF is a fill-in form, select “Filling in form fields” in the Changes Allowed drop-down.
  4. Enter the Change Permissions Password and click OK. You will be prompted to enter the password a second time. The password is case sensitive.
  5. Save the file under a different filename to keep an unprotected version of the file. Close and reopen the protected file. You will not be able to use the text editing tool or Save As and convert to a Word document. Word 2013 will not be able to open and convert the PDF.

Password Protect and Secure a Word, Excel, PowerPoint, or PDF File From Opening Without a Password

Microsoft Word, Excel, and PowerPoint and Adobe Acrobat include an “encrypt file” feature that allows for password security to restrict who can open the file. Therefore, when you attach a file to an email message or place a confidential file on an unencrypted thumb drive or laptop, you can restrict who can open the file.

To encrypt a Word, Excel, or PowerPoint file with a password to open, follow these steps:

  1. With a document open in Office 2010 or 2013, click the File menu, select Info, and then select Protect Document. In Office 2007, click the Office Button, select Prepare, and then select Encrypt Document.
  2. Select Encrypt with Password.
  3. In the Encrypt Document dialog box, type a password and click OK. You will be prompted to enter the password a second time. The password is case sensitive.
  4. Save, close, and reopen the file. Enter the password when prompted to open the file.
  5. To remove the password once the file is open, repeat steps 1, 2, and 3. In step 3, delete the black dots in the password field. Save, close, and reopen the file.

To encrypt a PDF file with a password to open in Adobe Acrobat, follow these steps:

  1. With a PDF open, click the File menu, select Properties, and then select the Security tab.
  2. In the Security Method drop-down box, select Password Security.
  3. Check the box next to “Require a Password to open the document.”
  4. Enter a password and select OK. You will be prompted to enter the password a second time. The password is case sensitive.
  5. Save, close, and reopen the file. Enter the password when prompted to open the file.
  6. To remove the password once the file is open, repeat step 1 and, in step 2, select No Security in the Security Method drop-down box.

A Note About Passwords

Stronger passwords are those that:

  • have 16 or more characters,
  • include special characters,
  • include upper and lower case characters,
  • do not include known words.

Legal software utilities are freely available on the internet that can hack through weak passwords using password cracking techniques including password dictionaries. If you have been using eight or fewer characters and known words in your passwords, such weak passwords may put you at risk for unauthorized access to your files.

If your business practices involve emailing confidential files, you may want to look into using a secure encrypted portal service to transfer files instead of email. These services normally allow you to upload files to a secure server and then send an email to the recipient to pick up the file by entering a password. If your business practices involve sending contracts in PDF format for signature, you may want to look into using a digital signature service such as Adobe EchoSign to securely distribute contracts and collect signatures. For information regarding encrypted thumb drives, visit www.ironkey.com.

Additional security topics will be covered in part 3 in this Information Security and Privacy series.

See also: Information Security and Privacy, Part 1