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We have a requirement of being able to search PDF files but users should not be able to download it. This is for SharePoint 2013 On-Premise.

So far, I thought of either a Provider Hosted Web App that runs with service account credentials, or a custom web part that runs in elevated privileges. Then they will both connect to Search API and search documents and display what is necessary.

Any other suggestions for the requirement? I'm thinking the above might be too overkill or there is a better way.

Bonus: Is it possible to display a preview of the pdf file as well? Similar to how the out of the box displays like a popup preview of the document?

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You will want to deploy Active Directory (or Azure) RMS. This will allow you to establish policies on the document library which prevent downloading of the file, but the ability to view it in Office Online Server.

https://docs.microsoft.com/en-us/azure/information-protection/deploy-rms-connector

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