How to Protect Your CAD Files

Protect CAD with DRMDesign and manufacturing companies rely on global supply chains to do business.  Whether you are in the automotive, electronics or mountain bike industry, you source components and the intellectual property to create them from many organizations.  That information is typically in computer-aided design (CAD) files.  Companies use AutoCAD, CATIA, Pro/E, SolidWorks and many other applications to create their drawings and models.  You many not think about it, but even a company like LEGO uses CAD to build its products.

Take a laptop.  A few years ago, in Thomas Friedman’s book The World is Flat, he discussed the way Dell builds a computer.  It sources different components from all over the world.  The motherboard may come from China, the power supply from Ireland and the hard drive from Thailand.  Design may be done at Dell locations in the United States, Australia or Singapore.  Dell may produce some components and buy others from the best suppliers they can find.

There is a lot of collaboration between all these organizations as they share design files, manufacturing information and customer details.  CAD files contain everything from printed circuit board layouts, to engine details and the inner workings of a power supply.  The information inside these files is the lifeblood of the company making the parts or products.

If I want to steal the latest cell phone battery design, you might think I should go looking at Apple, LG or Samsung.  Given the level of corporate and state-sponsored espionage to steal intellectual property, this is a logical place to start.  Or is it?

A smart criminal would look for the weakest link in the supply chain and try to exploit it.  If a key component is built by one of the manufacturer’s suppliers, can Apple or LG guarantee that the supplier has the same level of security as they do?

If I was building a new phone or car, I would encrypt my CAD files with a security policy that guarantees that I control who can access and use my drawings.  This gives me permission control so I can allow some people to edit the drawing and others to print it.  It’s important to implement this with the least disruption to my designers and engineers.  The simplest way is to encrypt the file when saving it.  That guarantees it’s protected at the moment of creation.  As different engineers work on or review CAD files, you control what they can do and who accesses the files.

If you share the file with suppliers, you can still control who accesses it.  Even if you share a PDF of the file, it will have the same security as the original.  That also makes it easy for the engineer or designer.  They go about their normal work, using the applications they use everyday.  They don’t have additional steps in the process beyond their normal routine.

Automatically encrypting and applying a security policy that stays with the file is the best way to protect your CAD files.  Doing that could guarantee you get your product to market first and retain your design ingenuity.

Photo credit B3dge

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