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Who Needs To Know?

Businesses are looking at digital-rights management software to prevent the costly loss of confidential information.

Businesses lose billions of dollars every year to theft of information and intellectual property. Rebecca Burr wanted to make sure that her company, Xilinx Inc., a $1.2 billion-a-year maker of programmable logic devices, didn't join that group.

Xilinx planned to move to digital price books and eliminate the costly paper price lists it distributed to resellers. But it needed a way to keep the price lists secure. Burr, Xilinx's director of market analysis, started using Authentica Inc.'s PageRecall application to add protection to and retain control over the digital price books. PageRecall lets Xilinx control whether the pricing data can be saved locally, forwarded, or viewed after it's sent. For example, if a channel partner stops selling Xilinx products, Xilinx can revoke its right to access the price information. And if a price list is printed, the software watermarks the page with the name of the user who printed the document.

"We recognize that you have to put some barriers in place to protect certain types of information," Burr says. The problem isn't just malicious insiders. "Sometimes it's really unintentional," she says. "Maybe they're not aware of the sensitivity of the information or that one click on the wrong name in their address book and the information ends up in bad hands."

Rebecca Burr, director of market anaysis at Xilinx. Photo by Angela Wyant.

Protecting Xilinx's price lists when they went to a digital format was key, says Burr, director of market analysis.
Burr and other business-technology professionals know how difficult it can be to share private or proprietary information in a secure fashion. Once a file or document is sent outside a company, it's hard to know who's looking at it or what they're doing with it. But software known as post-delivery protection, or digital-rights management, is gaining ground with some businesses that want to impose restrictions on what happens to their information once it leaves the house.

Digital-rights management is best known as the technology that protects movies, songs, and E-books from being copied. However, businesses and government agencies use DRM technologies to protect confidential information. DRM applications create persistent access rights, meaning rights that travel with the document. It places limits on whether a document or an E-mail can be forwarded, printed, copied, or altered, and how many times and for how long it can be viewed.

These types of applications are increasing in importance as the government imposes more regulations on what information can be shared and what must be kept confidential. Regulations such as the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act, and the Sarbanes-Oxley Act, which require that certain information be kept confidential and that records be kept to show who had access to that data, have increased the need to protect documents.

For years, businesses tried to impose restrictions on the use of documents, files, and E-mails with a variety of applications that had some built-in rights-management capabilities. But those capabilities were limited. Today, many software developers such as IBM and Microsoft are building stronger and more extensive DRM features into the fabric of their applications. Smaller vendors such as Authentica, Liquid Machines, and Sealed Media are enhancing their apps to enforce persistent document-security policies. And document-management vendors, who often build strict access rights and policies into their software, are increasing their partnerships with enterprise DRM vendors to add persistent protection to documents that are exported from their systems.

Big money is involved. Businesses lost between $53 billion and $59 billion to intellectual-property theft from July 1, 2000, to June 30, 2001, according to a survey of 138 business-technology managers conducted by PricewaterhouseCoopers, the Chamber of Commerce, and ASIS International.

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