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PDF permits the use of encryption as a means of restricting access or (re-)use of content. This may range from documents that can only be opened after providing a password, to disabling specific functionality (e.g. printing, copying content).


  • Content may become inaccessible if passwords are not known (even though "cracking" is often technically possible, institutions may not be legally permitted to do this)
  • Printing / copy restrictions may complicated any future preservation actions


The Preflight component of Apache PDFBox (an open source PDF/A validator) is able to detect encryption in a PDF (any PDF, doesn't have to be PDF/A!).

PDF requires password for opening

In Preflight 1.8.0 an open password results in error code 1.0 (syntax error), accompanied by this description:

Syntax error, Error (CryptographyException) while creating security handler for decryption: Error: The supplied password does not match either the owner or user password in the document

In Preflight 2.0.0 only a 'syntax' error message is reported without any indication of anything encryption-related. Reported this as a bug.

PDF requires password for copying document contents

Error code 1.4.2^*^.

PDF requires password for printing

Error code 1.4.2^*^.

PDF requires password to enable text access for screen reader devices for the visually impaired.

Error code 1.4.2^*^.

*: based on Preflight 1.8.0. In 2.0.0 an error code 1.0 with a 'syntax error' message is produced, but this looks like a bug (see above).

Example files


References to literature, etc.

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