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For many years, content management vendors have been trying to protect content as it moved through the world by attaching a set of rules. The earliest attempt, before the cloud came along, was called Information Rights Management (IRM). It was a lot like DRM (Digital Rights Management), but instead of protecting a movie or a song, it was protecting a corporate document.

In the earliest implementations, the document needed to communicate with an external server outside the protection of recipient’s firewall to enforce the rules associated with the document. Most IT departments in the early 2000s were not about to allow that due to security concerns. That made it challenging to implement any kind of document-level protections. As the cloud grew in popularity, that all changed, and it opened the door to companies like Box and Vera attaching security rules to a document that accompanies it wherever it goes in the world. 

Today, depending on the vendors you are using, you can decide if the document can be printed, copied, or edited, and even prevent viewers from taking a screenshot. What’s more, you can set an expiration date when the recipient loses permission to view the document at all. All of these precautions are meant to protect the document to the fullest extent possible in the digital age.

Of course, none of this could prevent someone from simply taking out a smartphone and shooting a picture of the document, but it does allow some semblance of control over unauthorized usage of digital documents.

Control in the digital age

Web 2.0 was the start of a big change in how we produced and shared content, taking it out the realm of highly trained specialists and putting it in reach of just about anyone. Enterprise 2.0 came next and emphasized easy collaboration and sharing of content. Easy sharing meant you needed to find a way to protect that content as it moved through the world.

That laid the foundation for what we have today, but it took smartphones and the advent of mobile-cloud connections to really alter how we produce and share content. Suddenly you could read or edit your documents wherever you were in the world. You could collaborate, comment, and share ideas, all using apps on your smartphone or tablet. But, this ease of use required a new level of control over the documents, and cloud-based IRM allows that.

All of this is about finding ways to secure documents, even in the age of easy sharing. You might not find it’s foolproof, because we know by now nothing is, but it gives you a fighting chance at security and control as you share important documents with colleagues, partners, customers, and suppliers.

Photo: kreatikar on Pixabay. Used under Creative Commons CC0 license.

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Ron Miller

Posted by Ron Miller

Ron Miller is a freelance technology reporter and blogger. He is contributing editor at EContent Magazine and enterprise reporter at TechCrunch.

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