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Securing Your Analytical Products

You’re a busy analyst. That much we’ve established. You tirelessly clean and analyze so that you can provide your agency with useful products and information that will hopefully be used to guide operations. This is the very heart of crime analysis work.

Our products—reports, alerts, bulletins, etc.—are intended to be shared. After all, if they sat on our desks for our eyes only, we wouldn’t be doing our jobs as analysts, right? But because these products often contain information that is time sensitive, they will inevitably contain details of incidents that are recent, current, ongoing, and in many cases, still under investigation.

As responsible analysts, we take certain precautions to protect the information contained in our products. Haven’t we all gotten good at slapping that little fancy disclaimer onto our products as a “CYA” safeguard? You know, the one that usually starts off something like, “The information contained in this document is law enforcement sensitive…” And while that written disclaimer might cover your you-know-what in the event that a product lands in the wrong hands, there are extra steps we can take to lessen the chances that an investigation is compromised. Even if we personally only disseminate to law enforcement personnel or other criminal justice professionals, as professionals we can and need to still be mindful of where else our products might go once we hit the “send” button.

Securing documents is an easy way to make sure that information is only seen by your intended audience. It also allows you to restrict what other people can do with your document content. There are various ways to accomplish varying levels of security. Because most of us share documents in a portable document format (PDF), here I’ll cover a few basic ways to protect a PDF file specifically. Keep in mind that the steps involved may vary slightly depending on which version of Adobe you have, and that most of these security options are also available for other file formats. A quick Google search will provide you with step-by-step directions on how to protect just about any file format in any software version. It is also recommended that whenever securing a document, you work with a copy so that you always maintain the original unadulterated version for yourself.

1. The Password Protect: This security setting requires a password in order to open the document for viewing. It ensures that only those who know the password will be able to open your document and view its contents. Obviously, this feature does not prevent recipients from sharing the password, but it is an added level of security nonetheless in the event that a file is accidentally forwarded.

How to Do It:
Go to Advanced -> Security -> Password Encrypt. A message box will pop up asking if you are sure you want to change the security on your document. Select Yes. Check the box that says Require a password to open the document. Type in the password you want to apply for security and then select Okay. You’ll be asked to confirm the password by typing it in again. Then select Okay. Your new security setting will be applies the next time you save your document. Voila, only those individuals with the password will be able to open the document. Be careful though… this applies to you, the writer, as well, so make sure to document your password somewhere safe else you won’t be able to open it either!

2. Restrict Permissions: This is another simple way of protecting your document. Here you can disable printing of your document and/or prevent your document’s content from being copied and pasted elsewhere.

How to Do It:
Go to Advanced -> Security -> Show Security Properties. On the Security Tab, select Change Settings. Under “Permissions”, select the box that says Restrict editing and printing of the document. Where is says Change Permissions Password, enter a password. Using the drop down menus directly below this password, you can restrict printing of your document as well as dictate what types of changes, if any, you will allow to be made to your document. Once you save your document, you will notice that the options to print, copy, paste, etc. are now unavailable (as indicated by being “grayed out”) according to the security settings you chose.

3. Redaction: Sometimes you want to share a document, and the easiest way to secure it is to simply redact a few pieces of sensitive information. Whatever you do, do not simply change the background color of your text! I assure you the text is still there and easily revealed.

How to Do It:
With your PDF document open, go to Advanced -> Redaction -> Mark for Redaction. Simply use the cursor to select the text and/or graphics that you would like to redact from your document. A red rectangle will appear around the text or image(s). Once you’ve marked all the content that you would like to redact, go to Advanced -> Redaction -> Apply Redactions. Adobe will warn you that you are about to permanently redact the content you have marked. Select Okay. The next time you save your document, even if you select “Save”, Adobe will prompt you to “Save As”, allowing you to rename it. As mentioned above, this is good habit to get into. This way you will maintain a copy of the original unadulterated document.

* Note that if you’re trying to redact with a PDF document where you have already restricted permissions to change the document (option 2 above) then your ability to redact might be unavailable depending on the settings you chose.

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