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Information Rights Management

Information Rights Management or IRM is a stack of technologies which protects information against unauthorized access. The way IRM is typically implemented protects information no matter when and how it is being accessed. For example, if e-mail or document was sent to a distribution list, only recipients from that distribution list will be able open that e-mail or document. If someone outside of the recipient list will receive this e-mail or document it won’t open.

The basic principle how IRM works is very similar to DRM (Digital Rights Management). The content of sensitive document is encrypted and in order for software to decrypt the document it needs to request a certificate from DRM server. Besides just giving access to a document the DRM certificate may also have certain restriction on what operations user is able to perform with the document. For example, DRM certificate may only authorize the user to view content of the document and disable information copy and paste. This prevents parts of the sensitive information leaking out.

Microsoft Office has advanced IRM features available for users. Below is a list of features it provides:

  • Protect restricted content from copying, forwarding, faxing, printing, changing, or pasting by an unauthorized user.
  • Set an expiration time on a file after which it will become inaccessible.
  • Document restrictions are applied no matter where document is sent.

Even though IRM sounds like a very powerful protection mechanism it still has its drawbacks and cases when it won’t be able to protect the information. Below is a list of such cases:

  • Information could still be lost, leaked or stolen with malicious software like viruses, key loggers, rootkits, and spyware.
  • IRM will not protect you against information photographed from the screen.
  • Information protected by IRM still could be retyped on another device manually.
  • Third-party screen capture software will be able to capture IRM protected information in screen shots.
  • Gmail and Google Docs has a feature called “Information Rights Management”. It is not that powerful as one used by Microsoft Office, but it will provide basic protection against malicious information copying, forwarding and printing.

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    RPMSG Quick Info
      Rights-Managed Email Object Protocol File
    MIME Type
    Opens with
      Microsoft Outlook
      Microsoft Outlook Web App (OWA)
      Azure Information Protection viewer