The challenge of communicating externally with IRM secured content

I am often asked by customers about how they handle sending IRM secured documents to external parties. Their concern is that using IRM to secure sensitive information they need to share outside their business, is troubled with the inability for third parties to install the software which enables them to gain access to the information. It is a very legitimate question and one i've had to answer many times in the past 10 years whilst helping customers plan successful IRM deployments.


The operating system does not provide the required level of content security

The problem arises from what IRM delivers, persistent security to your sensitive information where ever it resides and whenever it is in use. Oracle IRM gives customers an array of features that help ensure sensitive information in an IRM document or email is always protected and only accessed by authorized users using legitimate applications. Examples of such functionality are;

  • Control of the clipboard, either by disabling completely in the opened document or by allowing the cut and pasting of information between secured IRM documents but not into insecure applications.
  • Protection against programmatic access to the document. Office documents and PDF documents have the ability to be accessed by other applications and scripts. With Oracle IRM we have to protect against this to ensure content cannot be leaked by someone writing a simple program.
  • Securing of decrypted content in memory. At some point during the process of opening and presenting a sealed document to an end user, we must decrypt it and give it to the application (Adobe Reader, Microsoft Word, Excel etc). This process must be secure so that someone cannot simply get access to the decrypted information.


The operating system alone just doesn't have the functionality to deliver these types of features. This is why for every IRM technology there must be some extra software installed and typically this software requires administrative rights to do so. The fact is that if you want to have very strong security and access control over a document you are going to send to someone who is beyond your network infrastructure, there must be some software to provide that functionality.


Simple installation with Oracle IRM

The software used to control access to Oracle IRM sealed content is called the Oracle IRM Desktop. It is a small, free piece of software roughly about 12mb in size. This software delivers functionality for everything a user needs to work with an Oracle IRM solution. It provides the functionality for all formats we support, the storage and transparent synchronization of user rights and unique to Oracle, the ability to search inside sealed files stored on the local computer.

In Oracle we've made every technical effort to ensure that installing this software is a simple as possible. In situations where the user's computer is part of the enterprise, this software is typically deployed using existing technologies such as Systems Management Server from Microsoft or by using Active Directory Group Policies.


However when sending sealed content externally, you cannot automatically install software on the end users machine. You need to rely on them to download and install themselves. Again we've made every effort for this manual install process to be as simple as we can. Starting with the small download size of the software itself to the simple installation process, most end users are able to install and access sealed content very quickly. You can see for yourself how easily this is done by walking through our free and easy self service demonstration of using sealed content.


How to handle objections and ensure there is value

However the fact still remains that end users may object to installing, or may simply be unable to install the software themselves due to lack of permissions. This is often a problem with any technology that requires specialized software to access a new type of document.


In Oracle, over the past 10 years, we've learned many ways to get over this barrier of getting software deployed by external users. First and I would say of most importance, is the content MUST have some value to the person you are asking to install software. Without some type of value proposition you are going to find it very difficult to get past objections to installing the IRM Desktop. Imagine if you were going to secure the weekly campus restaurant menu and send this to contractors. Their initial response will be, "why on earth are you asking me to download some software just to access your menu!?". A valid objection... there is no value to the user in doing this.

Now consider the scenario where you are sending one of your contractors their employment contract which contains their address, social security number and bank account details. Are they likely to take 5 minutes to install the IRM Desktop? You bet they are, because there is real value in doing so and they understand why you are doing it. They want their personal information to be securely handled and a quick download and install of some software is a small task in comparison to dealing with the loss of this information.


Be clear in communicating this value

So when sending sealed content to people externally, you must be clear in communicating why you are using an IRM technology and why they need to install some software to access the content. Do not try and avoid the issue, you must be clear and upfront about it. In doing so you will significantly reduce the "I didn't know I needed to do this..." responses and also gain respect for being straight forward. One customer I worked with, 6 months after the initial deployment of Oracle IRM, called me panicking that the partner they had started to share their engineering documents with refused to install any software to access this highly confidential intellectual property. I explained they had to communicate to the partner why they were doing this. I told them to go back with the statement that "the company takes protecting its intellectual property seriously and had decided to use IRM to control access to engineering documents." and if the partner didn't respect this decision, they would find another company that would. The result? A few days later the partner had made the Oracle IRM Desktop part of their approved list of software in the company.



Companies are successful when sending sealed content to third parties

We have many, many customers who send sensitive content to third parties. Some customers actually sell access to Oracle IRM protected content and therefore 99% of their users are external to their business, one in particular has sold content to hundreds of thousands of external users. Oracle themselves use the technology to secure M&A documents, payroll data and security assessments which go beyond the traditional enterprise security perimeter.


Pretty much every company who deploys Oracle IRM will at some point be sending those documents to people outside of the company, these customers must be successful otherwise Oracle IRM wouldn't be successful. Because our software is used by a wide variety of companies, some who use it to sell content, i've often run into people i'm sharing a sealed document with and they already have the IRM Desktop installed due to accessing content from another company.


The future

In summary I would say that yes, this is a hurdle that many customers are concerned about but we see much evidence that in practice, people leap that hurdle with relative ease as long as they are good at communicating the value of using IRM and also take measures to ensure end users can easily go through the process of installation.


We are constantly developing new ideas to reducing this hurdle and maybe one day the operating systems will give us enough rich security functionality to have no software installation. Until then, Oracle IRM is by far the easiest solution to balance security and usability for your business. If you would like to evaluate it for yourselves, please contact us.


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Oracle IRM protects and tracks your sensitive information no matter where it goes. It combines business friendly encryption with role based usage rights and auditing.

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« July 2016