Protecting offline IRM rights and the error "Unable to Connect to Offline database"
By Simon Thorpe on Apr 19, 2010
One of the most common problems I get asked about Oracle IRM is in relation to the error message "Unable to Connect to Offline database". This error message is a result of how Oracle IRM is protecting the cached rights on the local machine and if that cache has become invalid in anyway, this error is thrown.
Offline rights and security
First we need to understand how Oracle IRM handles offline use. The way it is implemented is one of the main reasons why Oracle IRM is the leading document security solution and demonstrates our methodology to ensure that solutions address both security and usability and puts the balance of these two in your control.
Each classification has a set of predefined roles that the manager of the classification can assign to users. Each role has an offline period which determines the amount of time a user can access content without having to communicate with the IRM server. By default for the context model, which is the classification system that ships out of the box with Oracle IRM, the offline period for each role is 3 days. This is easily changed however and can be as low as under an hour to as long as years. It is also possible to switch off the ability to access content offline which can be useful when content is very sensitive and requires a tight leash.
So when a user is online, transparently in the background, the Oracle IRM Desktop communicates with the server and updates the users rights and offline periods. This transparent synchronization period is determined by the server and communicated to all IRM Desktops and allows for users rights to be kept up to date without their intervention. This allows us to support some very important scenarios which are key to a successful IRM solution.
- A user doesn't have to make any decision when going offline, they simply unplug their laptop and they already have their offline periods synchronized to the maximum values. Any solution that requires a user to make a decision at the point of going offline isn't going to work because people forget to do this and will therefore be unable to legitimately access their content offline.
- If your rights change to REMOVE your access to content, this also happens in the background. This is very useful when someone has an offline duration of a week and they happen to make a connection to the internet 3 days into that offline period, the Oracle IRM Desktop detects this online state and automatically updates all rights for the user. This means the business risk is reduced when setting long offline periods, because of the daily transparent sync, you can reflect changes as soon as the user is online. Of course, if they choose not to come online at all during that week offline period, you cannot effect change, but you take that risk in giving the 7 day offline period in the first place.
- If you are added to a NEW classification during the day, this will automatically be synchronized without the user even having to open a piece of content secured against that classification. This is very important, consider the scenario where a senior executive downloads all their email but doesn't open any of it. Disconnects the laptop and then gets on a plane. During the flight they attempt to open a document attached to a downloaded email which has been secured against an IRM classification the user was not even aware they had access to. Because their new role in this classification was automatically synchronized their experience is a good one and the document opens.
More information on how the Oracle IRM classification model works can be found in this article by Martin Abrahams.
So what about problems accessing the offline rights database?
So onto the core issue... when these rights are cached to your machine they are stored in an encrypted database. The encryption of this offline database is keyed to the instance of the installation of the IRM Desktop and the Windows user account.
Why? Well what you do not want to happen is for someone to get their rights for content and then copy these files across hundreds of other machines, therefore getting access to sensitive content across many environments. The IRM server has a setting which controls how many times you can cache these rights on unique machines. This is because people typically access IRM content on more than one computer. Their work desktop, a laptop and often a home computer. So Oracle IRM allows for the usability of caching rights on more than one computer whilst retaining strong security over this cache.
So what happens if these files are corrupted in someway? That's when you will see the error, Unable to Connect to Offline database. The most common instance of seeing this is when you are using virtual machines and copy them from one computer to the next. The virtual machine software, VMWare Workstation for example, makes changes to the unique information of that virtual machine and as such invalidates the offline database.
How do you solve the problem?
Resolution is however simple. You just delete all of the offline database files on the machine and they will be recreated with working encryption when the Oracle IRM Desktop next starts. However this does mean that the IRM server will think you have your rights cached to more than one computer and you will need to rerequest your rights, even though you are only going to be accessing them on one. Because it still thinks the old cache is valid. So be aware, it is good practice to increase the server limit from the default of 1 to say 3 or 4. This is done using the Enterprise Manager instance of IRM.
So to delete these offline files I have a simple .bat file you can use;
Note that this uses pskillto stop the irmBackground.exe from running. This is part of the IRM Desktop and holds open a lock to the offline database. Either kill this from task manager or use pskillas part of the script.