24 February 2003 Microsoft has announced plans for a major new product intended to give businesses tight control over who can read and reproduce digital documents — and who can access sensitive web pages and databases.
The new product, Windows Rights Management Services (RMS), fits squarely into the digital rights management (DRM) category of software, which is usually aimed at organisations that distribute valuable intellectual property. But Microsoft has chosen to highlight concerns over corporate security, rather than copyright violations, as the main reason for introducing the product.
The product will be able to prevent unauthorised viewing, printing, copying, forwarding or storing of any file that has been produced by a program participating in the RMS architecture. It will be also be possible for managers to centrally apply policies, such as defining who can see documents classed as “confidential”.
Windows RMS is one of a growing number of Microsoft products that uses a central Windows server; it will most likely be charged for on an annual subscription model. Microsoft describes it as an ‘ASP.Net web service’.
In order to access, print, forward or copy a document, a user will have to connect to the server, which will store details of users, documents and distribution policies. Documents will also contain code to ensure that unauthorised actions cannot be taken when the user is not connected to the network.
The product uses the recently developed extensible rights mark-up language (XrML), which means that other client and server applications should be able to interoperate with RMS. For example, a supplier of a computer aided design (CAD) package should be able to ensure that use of these documents can be controlled.
This is one of four Microsoft DRM products. Two have already been released – the Windows Media Rights Manager, launched in 1997, focuses on audio and video files; and the Digital Asset Server (2000) is a simple means of controlling file access.
Another product, code-named Palladium, has yet to be released. This is a part-software, part hardware system for strictly controlling access to sensitive files and involves partitioning the hard-disk drives.
However, Microsoft’s product announcement was met with immediate criticism. The Electronic Frontier Foundation, a civil liberties group, said it would be possible for companies to send potentially damaging emails to employees or partners that were programmed to self-destruct. But Microsoft argued that it is helping companies comply with new laws concerning privacy and the protection of sensitive information.
Windows RMS will be available in the second quarter of 2003.