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How to Lock CAD Files Securely & Protect Your IP

by Chris Brook on Friday September 8, 2023

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Industrial designs and architectural blueprints are crucial centerpieces of the manufacturing sector’s intellectual property (IP). As the United States strives to reinvigorate its manufacturing sector, computer-aided design (CAD) files require the utmost data protection to safeguard against industrial espionage.

Manufacturing is an interconnected industry and a robust arena for technological innovation and IP generation: as far back as 2015, medium-high technology has been responsible for 80% of patents granted to U.S. manufacturing industries.

CAD files have become extremely valuable in industrial applications to store system designs and R&D efforts. Understanding how to lock a CAD file securely and effectively is pivotal to protecting its IP information.

What’s The Easiest Way to Lock a CAD File?

The easiest way to lock a CAD file is with a password. But this is an insufficient approach. Not all CAD applications provide the option of password-protecting a DWG (native format) file. However, Digital Guardian Secure Collaboration offers a holistic approach by providing full, dynamic data protection to safeguard the IP in CAD files.

Digital Guardian Secure Collaboration’s partnership with Autodesk and PTC, two of the leading players in the global computer-aided design (CAD) market, gives it a unique advantage and perspective in securing your IP.

CAD Security Requires More than Password Protection

The Autodesk and PTC partnership allowed Digital Guardian Secure Collaboration to become the first solution to safeguard CAD files with persistent control and security, along with the data contained in Product Lifecycle Management (PLM) systems.

While Autodesk and PTC provide strong security, they are stymied in their ability to secure CAD files once they leave the cocoon of their application environments. Digital Guardian Secure Collaboration complements this by providing always-on security wherever the CAD file travels.

As a result, Autodesk and PTC can provide users the ability to exert total control over their designs and drawings.

The Risks of Leaking CAD Files

CAD files comprise more than illustrations, designs, or pieces of drawing. There are several compelling reasons why protecting your company’s CAD files is important. They reveal bits of information that, if shared, can compromise corporate secrets. Locking CAD files is important because they can contain the crown jewels of an organization’s hardwon research and innovation.

CAD files are typically used to create blueprints, models, prototypes, architectural plans, and technical drawings spanning a wide range of industries.

These files are a prime target by virtue of their IP but also because they are large and data-rich. Here are some of the other risks of leaking CAD files:

  • Valuable IP: The foremost reason to protect CAD files is that they are part of your organization’s intellectual property. Since they contain proprietary and confidential information, those handling the files are legally obligated to safeguard them from intellectual property theft.
  • Reputational risks of breaches/compromise: An organization could suffer reputational risk in the event of data leakage, so protecting your CAD files is also an exercise in brand protection.
  • Compliance liabilities: CAD files are intellectual property and, in turn, are subject to certain legal obligations. Data breaches and leakages may occur with poorly secured CAD files. These incidents will most likely trigger punitive fines and penalties stemming from compliance liabilities associated with data leaks.
  • Lack of effective controls: The manufacturing process often requires project collaboration and sharing with multiple managers, external suppliers, and third-party vendors. While these require granting access to CAD files to various individuals, they usually lack effective controls to protect the content with sensitive designs against intellectual property infringement.

    Sharing your CAD files without continuous protection ultimately exposes an organization to data leakage, illegitimate, or unintended use of their IP.
     

The Various Ways You Can Protect CAD Files

CAD files need to be protected and tracked every step of the way. Here are some of the methods often used to secure CAD files.

Converting to Other File Formats

Certain categories of CAD file formats are always editable, such as DWG and DXF files. If you need to share these files without worrying about them being illegally modified, you should convert them to PDF or DWF format to make them read-only or uneditable.

Secure formats such as DWF and DWFx, developed by Autodesk, are more suited for sharing and distribution outside private networks than DWG files. Another benefit of DWF files is that they don’t require installing AutoCAD to review or use them.

Password Protection

Among other benefits, password protection prevents unauthorized usage and access to sensitive documents. However, CAD application platforms like AutoCAD and its 2016-based products removed the ability to use passwords.

Rather, AutoCAD advocates the purchase of an encryption product to protect CAD files. AutoCAD specifically recommends using a 256-bit protocol with AES symmetric encryption.

Here are several methods AutoCAD suggests for protecting design files with sensitive information:

  • Exporting CAD files as PDFs and then subsequently adding a password to the PDF files.
  • Alternatively, package the CAD files as a zip file utility and subsequently add password protection. 
  • Utilize third-party encryption and password utility to protect drawing files. 
  • Protect CAD files behind firewalls and network permissions.
  • Protect CAD files behind your cloud service provider’s network permissions.
     

Cryptographic Encryption

To lock CAD files securely, some application platforms resort to cryptographic cybersecurity methods to create special IP protection that’s securely embedded in the CAD file. Some of these methods are quite ingenious, like combining geometry and cryptography to create and link irreversible hash results to the IP owner on a blockchain.

Using Digital Rights Management (DRM) or Information Rights Management (IRM)

Organizations can implement robust digital rights management technology to control access to their CAD files and what can be done to their content. In addition to constraining users from access to certain assets, DRM can be used to limit the sharing, printing, copying, editing, and forwarding of proprietary or copyrighted content.

DRM achieves this through a variety of means, including limiting the number of users or devices that has access to it and locking access to specific locations, devices, and IP addresses. It also uses dynamic watermarking to denote ownership and discourage the taking of screenshots.

Furthermore, DRM allows you to set expiry dates after which access to CAD files becomes disabled. DRM also typically applies encryption to digital media.

Information rights management travels seamlessly and unobtrusively with your CAD file and data. IRM also enables organizations to enforce corporate policy to govern the use, control, and dissemination of CAD files.

Explore How Fortra’s Digital Guardian Secure Collaboration Helps Protect the IP in Your CAD Files

Digital Guardian Secure Collaboration’s ability to extend its dynamic data protection to CAD and PLM systems plugs a vital security loophole for manufacturing companies. In addition to providing manufacturers with CAD out-of-the-box integration, Digital Guardian Secure Collaboration allows you to decide when its dynamic data protection capabilities are enforced.

To learn more about how Digital Guardian Secure Collaboration can help secure your CAD files and IP, book a demo with us today.

 

Tags:  Secure Collaboration

Chris Brook

Chris Brook

Chris Brook is the editor of Digital Guardian’s Data Insider blog. He is a cybersecurity writer with nearly 15 years of experience reporting and writing about information security, attending infosec conferences like Black Hat and RSA, and interviewing hackers and security researchers. Prior to joining Digital Guardian–acquired by Fortra in 2021–he helped launch Threatpost, an independent news site that was a leading source of information about IT and business security for hundreds of thousands of professionals worldwide.

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