Microsoft unveils Windows Rights Management Services

Microsoft has unveiled its Windows Rights Management Services (RMS), a web-based product which allows users to distribute...

Microsoft has unveiled its Windows Rights Management Services (RMS), a web-based product which allows users to distribute information and define who, how and when it can be used, as well as when those rights expire and who can open, print or modify the information.

So far, there are four RMS-enabled Microsoft Office applications including Outlook 2003, Word 2003, PowerPoint 2003, and Excel 2003, but Microsoft said RMS can be used by any Windows-based application.

Developed for the large enterprise, Microsoft said RMS is especially well-suited for verticals generating confidential information, such as human resources, finance, legal and health care.

"It’s useful for companies that are subject to confidentiality regulations or that have some sort of very formal internal regulations in place," said Rob Helm, director of research at Directions on Microsoft.

"[RMS] makes it more brain-dead for the user to comply. If there’s any confusion about whether something is attorney-client privilege, or ‘should I give it to this third person,’ well, the technology can help a company to enforce that."

Helm said that while RMS can help prevent casual or inadvertent leaks it still will not prevent deliberate security breaches. He himself was able to bypass Outlook’s "do not forward e-mail" command.

"There are loopholes, and determined people will get around them," he said.

Helm added that while RMS can be useful, it is not a project a company should enter into lightly.

"The big challenge here is that it requires a lot of technical savvy on the part of the company to roll this out," he explained. "They have to understand concepts like public key infrastructure (PKI), and even companies that do understand PKI will have to learn the specific technology in RMS because it’s different from the PKI that is built into Windows."

Another concern Helm had is that even though RMS is designed to work with almost any application, he doubted whether all applications would become RMS-enabled. He said there are applications like Adobe Acrobat, which users commonly use alongside Microsoft Office products, that have their own rights management technology, and that this lack of integration might hinder the use of RMS.

Another option, he said, is for users to go for a third-party hosted rights management service such as GigaTrust by GigaMedia.

"It means you don’t have to be quite as technically savvy to get this going, although it still takes a lot of smarts, but the other thing is that it can help you work with your customers or partners. For example, if you want to share a protected internal price list with your resellers, you can do that more easily if you’ve got GigaTrust to go through as a broker for information," he added.

Microsoft has partnered with GigaMedia, EDS, Avande, Omniva, Reciprocal, SecureAttachment and SyncCast, so these companies can integrate RMS into their own service offerings. Microsoft also provides a development kit for third parties to integrate RMS into their applications.

Microsoft is also working with Rainbow Technologies to produce a RMS appliance so users do not need internet connectivity to run the information management program.

Rebecca Reid writes for

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