There are many systems that can lock your software or document, allowing you to control access to that file. But the problem arises with assuming that this will stop all theft. A well thought out, thorough protection system can deter theft, but it cannot stop it 100%.
An "unbreakable" protection system simply does not, and will
never exist. If someone really wants your information, they
can get it, even if it takes years of work.
SO WHAT'S THE POINT? WHY USE ANY PROTECTION AT ALL?
There is no 100% security guarantee in anything, but that's
no reason to totally ignore protecting your intellectual
property -- A thief can easily kick in your front door and
rob your house, but you still lock the door. Locking
the door is not 100% effective security, but we still do it.
Why? Because it deters most potential theft and those who are more determined will have to work a bit to get in.
WHO SHOULD USE PROTECTION?
The big question here is, HOW VALUABLE IS YOUR INFORMATION
TO YOU? Sensitive, proprietary or private information
demands some sort of protection, otherwise transmitting over
the net is not an option.
If your information is not free, then it's obviously of some
importance. So, how much damage would it do to you if it
were made freely available? What type of impact would it
have on your sales and could you (or would you) absorb that
without thinking twice?
Is a $14 Ebook worth paying for another service to protect
it? Probably not, but it depends on the situation and target
market. What about a $2,000 report? Does the price change
Businesses protect their property. If you believe your
information or software to be of a unique or proprietary
nature, you should protect that information using some
means, no matter how small.
Companies like Microsoft lose hundreds of millions of
dollars due to software theft and fraud, yet they continue
to implement protection measures in their software. I would
guess that without any protection whatsoever the losses
would be in the billions.
WHAT SHOULD YOU EXPECT?
Like I said, there is no 100% way to prevent every possible
incident, but you can make it very difficult and less likely
to happen. At best what you should hope is to provide just
enough security to close obvious security flaws and
discourage would-be thieves. But not so much security that
it discourages honest users and customers.
Here are some common protection schemes:
No Protection: Just distribute your information and hope
for the best.
- Pros: No special process to access file which means less
- Cons: File can be passed around, copied, distributed
and/or sold without authorization from the owner. Can't
prevent access after chargeback or refund.
General Password Protection: Simply requiring a
predetermined password to install or register the file.
- Pros: Simple for customer or end user.
- Cons: File and password can be passed around, copied,
distributed and/or sold without authorization from the
owner. Can't prevent access after chargeback or refund.
PC-Unique Password Protection: Generates a unique password
based on the user's computer.
- Pros: Can't pass around the file since it is basically
locked to one machine.
- Cons: Requires an extra step for registration; Customer
cannot move file to another PC; If their PC crashes they
will need another unique password; Can't prevent access
after chargeback or refund.
Delayed Registration: This requires a user to enter a second registration number a specific number of days after they first register the file. For example, after 90 days of use, they must enter a new registration number that they receive from you.
- Pros: It allows control over chargeback and refunds. The file will be disabled after the second registration period because you will not provide the second key to reactivate the file.
- Cons: Requires an extra step for registration; A user can request refund or chargeback AFTER the second registration period.
Post-Purchase Activation: Requires activation by online
server. After user purchases they are entered into an online
customer database. They then install and register the file
by entering their name/email or some data. The server
confirms the purchase and then activates the software.This
method is become more and more common with big name
- Pros: Can prevent unauthorized distribution of file since
the file must be activated by the online server.
- Cons: User must be online to register file; Can't move
file to a different PC; Can't prevent access after
chargeback or refund.
Active Password Protection: Each time user attempts to
access file it checks an online server to confirm the usage
rights and permissions for the user.
- Pros: Prevents distribution or copying of file; File
Owner can revoke access to file after chargeback or refund;
Access permissions can be changed and applied in real-time.
- Cons: must be connected to the net to register and/or
access file; User may not be able to move file to another
PC; User registration can be somewhat cumbersome and
difficult for some customers.
EVALUATING PROTECTION SERVICES
When looking to protect your digital information any
protection system or service that you consider should have a
few basic security bases covered.
For software and executables:
1. When opening the file, a protection system must not save
or copy an unprotected version of the file to the windows
TEMP directory or anywhere on your PC for that matter.
2. The system should automatically prevent password sharing
and access by unauthorized parties. This will prevent the
document from being passed around or distributed illegally
since it can't be opened unless you are authorized.
3. It should have some method to revoke or cancel access for
refunded or fraudulent users.
For PDF documents, providing adequate protection requires a
bit more security as their are many more ways to obtain a
protection free copy of the document.
Any PDF protection system must cover the three bases above,
as well as:
* It must prevent emailing of file and exporting or
extracting pages from file.
* It must prevent copying file and text to the clipboard
* It must prevent redistilling of the file and printing to PDF
* It must prevent unlimited, uncontrolled printing of file
* It must watermark all printed pages
* If using Adobe Reader, the company providing the
protection service must be an authorized Adobe DRM provider.
WHAT ABOUT COST? IS IT WORTH IT?
Is $300 a year too much to protect your copyrights?
Definitely not. Protection costs money, but if your business
is making money then it's a cost of doing business.
Is it for you? I don't know. Selling a few low priced
applications a month probably won't warrant any sort of
protection, but if you generate a substantial income from
your software or the information distributed is of a
critical nature to your business, then you need to protect
your intellectual "capital" at some level.
Personally, I believe that some level of protection should
be implemented on any piece of software or document that is
of any value to you. You should never mass distribute a file
in an unprotected format. Otherwise you will be scrambling
when you find someone misusing it... if you find them!
It's easy to listen to those that say "don't worry about it"
(a common reply to the document protection topic) until
someone is actually stealing from you. Then all you can do
is worry about it, but it's too late really. The damage is
done. You can't take something back once it's out there
unprotected. No amount of legal threatening is going to
phase someone in Prague who just doesn't care about your
Anthony Ellis is the creator of File Secure Pro, a file
protection and delivery system that allows authors to
securely distribute, monitor and control usage of their
Please read more about the system at
If you distribute important information online, File Secure
Pro allows you to start protecting your information within
minutes for a very low cost. It provides unequalled
protection that is not seen in even much larger and more