Safely Send Groups of Files using Acrobat Security Envelopes

When you receive a letter in the mail, most of us assume it hasn’t been tampered with by inspecting the seal or looking for suspicious markings. The outside of the envelope tells us who sent the materials. The envelope itself may contain several documents, but we don’t know which ones until we open the envelope itself.

Unfortunately, in the digital world, securely packaging several documents is more complex.

One possibility is to create a zip archive of the files. Zip archives compress the files, but unfortunately can also contain viruses. Today, many anti-spam programs block zip files. Zip archives also don’t tell us what’s inside and if we should open it. Worse, many clients don’t know how to work with Zip files.

An Acrobat Security Envelope is an excellent alternative. A PDF acts as a secure container to send files to your client.

Since Acrobat files can contain attachments, Acrobat can be used as a container for other types of files.

Acrobat 7 offers the ability to create a digital facsimile of an envelope containing other files:
Example Security Envelope

Since the file is an ordinary PDF, all your client needs is the free Adobe Reader to open the file.

Read on to learn how to create a Security Envelope

A PDF Envelope

Acrobat 7 and 8 offer a wizard that allows you to create a Security Envelope.

While anyone may open the envelope PDF, only recipients with a correct password will have access to the attachments. Even better, the attachments are compressed to reduce the file size.

There are two steps to creating the Secure eEnvelope:

  1. Create a Security Policy that only encrypts attachments
  2. Using the Wizard to create the envelope

Creating the Security Policy

The first step is to create a security policy that allows for encrypted attachments. Acrobat 7 and 8 allow for one-click application of security, a big improvement from previous versions. Once you create the policy, you can use it again and again.

To create the security policy:

  1. Click the Secure button on the Acrobat toolbar and choose Manage Security Policies
    Acrobat 7: Secure Button - Acrobat 7
    Acrobat 8: Secure Button - Acrobat 8
  2. Click New to create a new security policy.
    Create a new Security Policy
  3. Select a Password-based policy and click the Next button.
    Choosing a password
  4. Next, you will choose the new security options that allow you to encrypt only file attachments. Set as below:
    Security Settings
  5. Click the Finish button and exit the Manage Security Policies window

Using the Secure PDF Delivery Wizard

To use the wizard, go to the Secure button on the Acrobat 7 toolbar and choose “Secure PDF Delivery . . . “

  1. Click the Add File button to add files to the envelope.
    Adding files to a Security Envelope
  2. Choose an Envelope Template.
    The template offers your recipient the look and feel of a real envelope. You can create your own templates, too. Just create a PDF file and select it. If you add form fields, you can fill them in to customize the envelope.
    Choosing a Security Envelope Template
  3. Choose a Delivery Option
    I like to complete the envelope manually. The templates include form field that allow you to input the recipients name.
    Completing the envelope manually
  4. Click next and the Finish to see your completed envelope.

Need to enhance the envelope?

Depending on the template you choose, you can fill in various form fields to customize the appearance of the envelope. Some fields may be auto-populated with your username and a date stamp.

You can also use the Typewriter tool or various Acrobat annotations to type a message for the recipient or add special instructions.

What does the client see?

You send your client one PDF (the security envelope) containing the attachments.

When they open the PDF in Adobe Reader and try to open an attachment, they will be prompted for a password.

Note: In the example above, I created a Custom Security envelope. I’ve written an article on creating Custom Security Envelopes.

Notes and Other Issues

Note that when you send a security envelope to clients, your original files are copied to the envelope. Acrobat does not delete the source files.

Note that security is applied to the envelope and not the documents inside. Once the attachment open password is entered, the attachments themselves are enencumbered. You could apply security to the files themselves and then add them to the envelope. To learn how, read my article on Password Security.

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