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How to free your PDF from password protection?

3 ways to remove passwords from PDF files in Windows, macOS, and Linux in 2021.

Published: August 3, 2021 By Ozair Malik

Screenshot of Adobe Reader showing prompt for Password to open the PDF file

PDF files are the most popular and widely used file types in 2021. Whether it is an official document or a brochure of college, it always has a .pdf extension.

This file type was meant to preserve the integrity of the original document by allowing the recipient to view only, not edit. That is why PDF files were quickly adapted right after their introduction by Adobe in 1993.

Password is the most basic means of authentication. We widely use it to secure our important files, folders, and PDFs present on the system. You must have received password-protected files as Email attachments and later wanted to save them without a password.

Entering passwords, again and again, causes inconvenience if the file is stored on a secure system. Thus, I will recommend the three best ways to remove passwords for PDFs on the three widely used operating systems.

 

Three ways to remove password are listed along with two desktop graphics.

Disclaimer

The methods recommended below are only applicable if you already know the password of the encrypted PDF file.

Three ways to remove PDF password on Windows 10 and macOS

  1. Print the PDF using Default PDF Reader
  2. The Official Method: Adobe Acrobat Pro DC
  3. Use PDF Unlocking Tools

The decrypting methods for Windows and macOS are almost similar. But, the supporting software and commands will be different because of the contrasting nature of both the operating systems.

Anyhow, I will explain methods for both operating systems separately. Let’s get started.

1. Print the PDF using Default PDF Reader

Although people tend to use different third-party readers due to the distinct features they provide. But, the default PDF viewer in Windows 10 is the Microsoft Edge browser and Safari app in macOS X.

To remove password protection:

  1. Open the encrypted PDF file with Edge or Safari.
  2. You will be prompted to enter the password. Input the known password to open the file.
  3. If the password matches and the file opens, press CTRL + P (Windows) or Command + P (macOS) to print the original file.
  4. Choose “Save as PDF” from the drop-down list.
  5. Click the “OK” button.
  6. Choose the location to save an unprotected copy of the original encrypted file.
  7. Rename the file with a distinct one.
  8. Click the “Save” button.

After the last step, you have an unprotected copy of the original file. It will not prompt you to enter the password while opening the file.

However, the steps can slightly vary on macOS due to the entirely different nature of operating systems. But, the core concept remains the same.

Screenshot of Edge browser showing PDF print dialogue box.

Screenshot of macOS PDF reader print dialogue box

2. The Official Method: Adobe Acrobat Pro DC

Firstly, do not confuse the Acrobat pro with the Acrobat reader.

The Adobe reader is only a PDF viewer with view and print options. On the other hand, Acrobat Pro is the paid version with many features, including the PDF unlocking option.

It is available for both Windows and macOS with a 7-days trial.

Let’s have a look at the steps to unlock a PDF using Pro.

  1. Open the PDF file in Adobe Acrobat Pro DC.
  2. Enter the password to unlock the file.
  3. If the file opens, click on the lock icon on the left side of the window.
  4. Under Security Settings, Click on “Permission Details”.
  5. Navigate to the “Security” tab.
  6. Choose “No Security” from the “Security Method” drop-down list.
  7. Move to the File menu and click “Save” to save the changes.

Once you save the file after implementing the steps correctly, the file will no longer be password protected. It will not ask for a password next time you open the file.

Screenshot of Adobe Acrobat Pro DC showing Security settings.

Image source — howtogeek.com

3. Use PDF Unlocking Tools

Let me clear one thing, the web-based and desktop tools available do not crack the password. These tools only remove the owner-level restrictions—that restrict printing and modifying the file, not the user-level restrictions—that require a password to open the file.

To remove a user-level restriction using the tools, one must already know the password.

I will recommend some of the best web-based and offline tools that help you remove password and permission restrictions for your ease.

Online PDF password removers

Out of many web-based tools available, I will list only the reliable and personally tested ones.

  1. Smallpdf.com
  2. Easepdf.com
  3. thepdf.com
  4. Sodapdf.com
  5. Ilovepdf.com

The unlocking process is straightforward; Upload the file > Enter password > Download the unlocked file.

Although the online tools are convenient, there is a downside to them. These tools save the copy of the uploaded file on their web servers. Thus, data confidentiality is not guaranteed. Also, they have a maximum file size cap.

Desktop PDF Unlocking Tools

Desktop-based tools provide data confidentiality, and there is no file size limitation. Hence, they are more reliable in terms of data security as compared to online tools. Moreover, you can decrypt bulk files at a time.

The best Desktop PDF decrypter in 2021 are:

  1. PDFelement
  2. SysTools PDF Unlocker
  3. PDF Password Remover

All three tools listed above are cross-platform. They run smoothly on macOS and Windows. Also, they have a user-friendly GUI that allows a newbie to understand the unlocking procedure easily.

Three ways to remove PDF password on Linux

  1. Make a copy using Evince
  2. Decrypt PDF via QPDF
  3. Unlock via PDF toolkit- Pdftk

For Linux, we have entirely different methods because it is a CLI-based operating system.  I will take you through the step-by-step procedure, and after reading this guide, you will be able to decrypt a PDF file easily.

1. Make a copy using Evince

For Linux, making another copy of the file using default PDF viewer Evince is the easiest solution. Also, it is GUI based application, not CLI. Therefore, users who are not fans of terminals will find this method easy to implement.

To make a copy of the file using Evince application:

  1. Open the protected file with Evince.
  2. Enter the password to unlock the file.
  3. Go to the File options and click on the "Printer” icon on the top left corner.
  4. On the print dialogue box, select “print to file”.
  5. Select “PDF” as output format and click on the “Print” button.

Likewise Windows and macOS, this method will save the copy of the original file without a password.

Screenshot of Linux document viewer showing print dialogue box.

2. Decrypt PDF via QPDF

PDF is a terminal-based tool used to convert one PDF file to another while preserving integrity. It also allows a user to encrypt, decrypt, web-optimize, and split or merge files.

Here, I will use Ubuntu 20.04 for the demonstration, and QPDF comes pre-installed in it. In case if it is not installed, then type the following command at the terminal.

sudo apt-get install qpdf

Next, enter your user account password to start the installation.

The QPDF command for decrypting is straightforward, and below, I will demonstrate and explain it.

qpdf --password=password --decrypt [full path & original file name] [full path & new file name]

Screenshot of the terminal showing above command.

Note: square brackets are not part of the command.

In this 1st square bracket, input the full path of the location where the original file is saved and the actual file name. Whereas, in the 2nd, input the destination location path and new file name.

If the command is successfully executed, you will have an unprotected copy of the original file at the directory of the specified path.

3. Unlock via PDF toolkit- Pdftk

It is also a command-line tool for manipulating PDF files in Linux. It allows a user to perform a variety of operations on PDFs, including repairing corrupted files.

To install pdftk on a Linux:

sudo apt-get install pdftk

Now, to decrypt the file, type the following command on the terminal.

pdftk [full path & original file name] input_pw [password] output [full path & new file name]

Screenshot of the terminal showing above command

Likewise, in qpdf, the input in square brackets is the same as explained in the above chapter. The only difference is the “password”; you need to enter your file password at this place.

Conclusion

Encrypting confidential PDF files with a strong password is a good practice. However, for your own convenience, keeping in mind the risk involved, you can store a decrypted copy of the original file on your system. This will save you from entering the password on every attempt to open the file.

Here, I assume that you already know the password while removing password protection from your PDF file. I do not recommend cracking the PDF password because it is illegal.

If you know of any other reliable cross-platform solution for removing password protection from the PDF file, please mention it in the comments below.

Tags: 
Technology
Author
Ozair Malik
A passionate Cyber Security researcher and writer with a keen interest in Digital Forensics. A community worker running a insta blog to raise cybersecurity awareness among laymen.

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