How to Choose a DRM Software for Documents?

Digital Rights Management (DRM) is the technology used to protect valuable content from being exploited without consent. Learn how to choose a DRM software.

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What Is DRM and Why Is It Important?

Digital Rights Management (DRM) is the technology used to protect valuable content from being exploited and redistributed without consent. While it can be related to a variety of media types such as videos, audio, video games, and images, it is mostly associated with text documents.

Content Protection – the Achilles Heel of Many Organizations

In the digital era, content has become more important than ever. It is a strategic asset. Therefore, protecting it is safeguarding the organization’s competitive advantage. If valued content is shared and spread without consent, it can cause major damage to the organization.

This risk is even greater with the new privacy regulations such as the GDPR. Sensible and personal information that is shared, deliberately or not, with unclassified readers can be followed by heavy lawsuits and significant losses.

For those reasons, adopting DRM technology is critical for many companies.

There are many DRM solutions in the market. In this article, we’ll discuss how to differentiate and choose the one that best fits your needs.

What Are the Most Important Criteria when Choosing DRM Systems for Documents ?

1. Level of Encryption

For obvious reasons, the DRM solution companies don’t share the exact encryption technology behind the DRM system. There are websites that can reveal how easy (or difficult) it is to break the encryption of the protected file.

2. User-Friendly System

Being user-friendly has two sides. On the one hand, a solution that “keeps it simple” for the users is desirable. The target readers should be able to access the content easily and not go through difficult processes to view it. On the other hand, if it is too simple, it might be easy to hack, thus, exposing your content. For example, there are “zero footprint” solutions, which basically don’t require any special installations or plugins. While these systems are very user-friendly and require no special software and configurations from the end-user, they are definitely easier to hack. This is so because the technology used is located on the file itself making it easier to access.

There are also very robust solutions that require dynamic key encryptions and software installations on computers and mobile phones. With these, it is more difficult to hack the generated protected documents. However, it takes more effort to access them. That can be a major inconvenience to non-technical users.

The best solution for your needs depends on the content, as well as how valuable and sensitive it is. In some cases, it’s better to sacrifice “user-friendliness” to achieve maximum security.

3. Can It Protect Various Types of Media?

While the main need of most organizations from Digital Rights Management systems is to protect text documents (PDF, DOC, etc.) from time to time, other types of media should be protected as well. Some solutions provide protection for a wider range of media files such as video files, images, and audio files.

If you anticipate you will need to protect formats other than documents, you had better verify that the solution you choose has this feature.

4. Price

An important criterion is, of course, the cost of the DRM system. The pricing model varies considerably. It can range from entirely free DRM solutions to those costing several thousand dollars per year. There are also different price structures for the paid solutions: pay per month, pay per year, special pricing for SMBs, custom pricing for enterprises, etc. We will go over the different prices in the next section – Reviewing DRM Solutions.

5. Tracking and Analytics

In addition to file protection, some DRM solutions provide a service of tracking and analytics. It serves two purposes:

  1. Security monitoring: to understand who read your document, where and when. And, as a consequence, to know if it was shared without consent.
  2. Business Analytics: to provide insight into the behavior of the target users and understand how engaging your content is. How many times was it read by the user? Which parts did the user read more thoroughly than others? Which users read it more often than others?

The tracking and analytics feature is definitely something to consider. It can give you important insights from a security perspective, as well as a business perspective.

6. Ability to Generate Protected Files Automatically

Another important feature, especially for big organizations, is the ability to auto-generate protected files. When your organization has processes in place that require file protection, it can be complicated to activate the file protection manually. You will need a way to integrate the DRM system in the process.

If this scenario is the case for your organization, then a DRM system that provides an API to execute the file protection process automatically is a must-have.

Documents DRM Systems Reviewed

1. PDF No Copy

PDF no copy is an online solution to protect PDF files from copying. It is a basic and entirely free solution that doesn’t require any installation from the content owner or the content reader.

PDF no copy is very user-friendly and simple. All you have to do is upload the original PDF file, wait for it to process the file, and wait for the protected file to be downloaded automatically with DRM restrictions.

To verify it worked, you can open the protected file and try to copy the text. Either the copy function will appear in grey (disabled) or it will not appear at all. It depends on the PDF reader being used.

It is a simple and free solution. At the same time, it provides very basic protection without disabling screenshots, for example. PDF no copy is not recommended to protect highly sensitive files since it is more hackable than professional DRM systems.

2. Locklizard’s Safeguard

Locklizard’s Safeguard is one of the leading DRM systems for enterprises on the market. It has an impressive client portfolio with clients such as DELL, Epson, Airbus, Fujitsu, and more.

Locklizard’s DRM software provides a wide range of features that ensure the highest level of protection. There are basic features such as disabling modification, copying text, disabling or limiting printing and more advanced features such as screenshots blocking, monitoring consulting of documents and revoking access to certain users. With Locklizard, you can white-list specific IP addresses; only those will be allowed to view the content.

An interesting feature is Safeguard’s watermarking capabilities with features that add dynamic watermarks, which are presented when printing the documents. As a consequence, it allows you to identify the source of the printed version of the document. In other words, you not only have digital rights management but also a certain level of print rights management.

Locklizard’s safeguard has a range of pricing models starting from 500 USD per month to 6,495 USD for a perpetual license that will be hosted by the client.

3. Vitrium

Vitrium is another leading, highly reputed DRM solution that was launched in 2005 and has not stopped evolving and innovating since.

Vitrium’s Digital Rights Management Software not only addresses text documents protection, but it also provides the highest protection and security standards for most media types: images, videos, and documents using their user portal.

Some of the files that can be used in the sharing portal are PDF, Word, Excel, PowerPoint, RTF, TXT, MP4, MOV, WMV, FLV, AVI, and MKV, JPEG, GIF, PNG, and more.

Besides the basic features of copy and printing protection, Vitrium has extensive APIs that facilitate the integration with current processes inside the organization. In other words, document, image, and video protection can be done at scale without manually configuring each file.

Vitrium has an impressive tracking and analytics interface that can shed light on who exactly viewed the files and when.

Additionally, it provides a dimension of business analytics. The analytics interface provides insights on which documents were consulted most, by whom, which pages and how long the user spent reading them. When sending propositions to potential partners, this feature can be extremely valuable.

Vitrium’s pricing structure is monthly based and starts at 300 USD per month.

4. DRM-X

DRM X by Haihaisoft is a DRM solution that doesn’t require a server. It is based on sophisticated encryption that requires a decryption key, which can be shared. With this key, it is impossible to view the document.

DRM X has recently updated the architecture of its encryption system and now it can even protect Javascript and HTML5 files. It is very handy for software companies that deal with sharing scripts and, especially important for organizations with sensitive data such as banks, insurance companies, and health institutions. 

A drawback in the DRM X solution is that it requires different software installation on each type of operating system: Windows, Mac, Android, and iOS.

If you buy the basic license of 80 USD a month, it will only cover the windows operating system.

To consult documents on all devices / operating systems, you will need the enterprise license, which costs 500 USD per month.

5. FileOpen

The last solution is FileOpen. This is a popular solution that was adopted by companies such as Deloitte, Pearson, Chanel, RedBull, Disney, and more.

The big advantage of FileOpen is that it is very user-friendly. The FileOpen Client runs in Adobe Acrobat/Reader as a 3rd party plug-in. Since many organizations use Adobe Acrobat/Reader, it simplifies the integration of this DRM solution in the company. FileOpen’s DRM is also supported by a number of other desktop PDF viewers including Foxit Phantom/Reader, Nitro Pro/Reader, Kofax PDF Advanced (formerly Nuance), Blubeam Revu, and Tracker PDF-XChange. FileOpen also offers a capability to open encrypted PDFs in an unmodified browser, i.e. on any platform without any software installation.

Files encrypted using FileOpen can be opened in multiple viewers because the system implements the mechanisms described by the PDF Specification. Systems that conform to the PDF spec are able to encrypt PDF files and have those files retain the .pdf extension and to retain all the functionality of PDF including support for forms, multimedia, digital signatures, accessibility and searchability. The approach implemented by FileOpen is also implemented in the DRM systems from Adobe Systems and Microsoft.

FileOpen’s pricing starts at 300 USD per month.

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