What is Digital Rights Management?

Digital Rights Management, or DRM for short, involves managing, controlling, and securing data from unauthorized users. Traditional DRM technologies are often associated with the prevention of unauthorized access and distribution of consumer-facing media, such as music, movies, images, and games. However, this concept can also be applied to enterprises to address the data protection needs when collaborating and sharing business-critical data across internal and external stakeholders.   

Generally, securing consumer-facing content and software is much simpler and often does not cause a large-scale loss, if compromised. This isn’t the case for business-critical data and files, as this needs to be distributed and shared with multiple collaborators, including employees, partners, and customers. A data leak or wrongful disclosure for an enterprise could lead to significant impact and loss to the business. Because of this, organizations need a solution that ensures data remains safe, without sacrificing the ability to efficiently collaborate, share, and edit. Digital Rights Management protects sensitive enterprise information from unauthorized access, use, and distribution by applying rules to the information distributed in electronic documents.  

How Digital Rights Management Works

Digital Rights Management technology thrives in dynamic business settings that rely on collaboration. It allows sensitive enterprise business-critical information and data to be created, viewed, modified, and distributed securely. Digital Rights Management systems protect enterprise information from unauthorized access, use, and distribution by applying policies to the information distributed in electronic documents. DRM policies selectively prevent document recipients from specific use activities like copying, printing, forwarding, cut & paste, and expiration. Policies can be updated or revoke access to a file even if the document has been distributed outside the enterprise. In doing this, DRM can protect data against theft, misuse, or inadvertent disclosure, and mitigates the business, legal, and regulatory risks of collaboration and information exchanges with partners and customers.   

Digital Rights Management Use Cases

Given the nature of today’s digital environment, digital rights management is increasingly important for companies that need to share data with cross-border business units, partners, and the extended supply chain. By introducing a dynamic authorization policy engine with fine-grained access and usage controls, along with attribute-driven policy to protect, track, and monitor data to digital rights management technology, it extends its ability to control access and enhances DRM’s flexibility. Generally, digital rights management use cases for enterprises fall into two categories: 

  1. Highly classified mission critical files, such as engineering plans, product recipes, financial data, etc.  
  1. User generated arbitrary files- this included emails, datasheets, or authored documents.  

In the first scenario, it is vital to protect these mission-critical files using a highly secured, centrally managed solution that allows for the monitoring of this data throughout its lifecycle. However, in the second scenario, while this type of data may seem mundane and doesn’t match the impact of the first type of files being leaked, user generated arbitrary files are more common and in turn, more vulnerable. To protect these types of files, a solution that is easy to use and scalable is important, as it allows a large amount of data to be protected without much IT overhead. 

Aside from these two categories, there are many use cases in which digital rights management can be used. For example, DRM can benefit organizations in the following areas: 

Benefits of Digital Rights Management

Using DRM to balance the “need to share” with the need to protect”

As mentioned, nearly all companies need to share information, whether it be with business partners or divisions in other locations, it is an essential aspect of conducting business today. This has led to a shift where it is no longer possible to contain data within the network perimeter due to an increase in access points and data residing in the cloud. Fortunately, digital rights management can be used to balance the “need to share” with the “need to protect” data. Some examples of DRM can be used to protect data when sharing:

  • Automating the protection of content shared and downloaded from cloud collaboration platforms. Using centrally managed policies, data can be safeguarded and tracked persistently at the individual file level, providing a simple and flexible way to safeguard data access.
  • Provide an easy-to-use tool for business users to protect content on the end user’s device. This allows users to write and create policies for files, dictating the use of files on their client’s devices. These policies can control access, sharing, and editing rights seamlessly and transparently within applications.
  • Secure data in the cloud – Digital Rights Management provides an effective approach to allow organizations to control access, sharing, and editing of their files stored in the cloud without sacrificing mobility and collaboration.

Digital Rights Management and Monitoring & Tracking Data

While digital rights management technology is heavily associated with reducing exposure of information risks and preventing data loss when sharing information, another benefit it offers for organizations is the ability to monitor data usage. The use of central policy management, allows enterprises to know when users attempt to access, edit, or share a file. This level of control helps ensure a tight grip on security controls during the document or file’s lifecycle.

Enhancing Digital Rights Management

Traditional digital rights management methods provide the ability to control access but may present some challenges. This can stem from inflexible frameworks that require coding and constant maintenance to ensure users can access necessary data. Other solutions may be limited by the types of files they can support, such as only PDF and Microsoft Office files.

Digital Rights Management powered by ABAC offers even greater flexibility to be used by a broader audience while solving a larger scope of commonly faced business problems. ABAC-based policy is dynamic by nature as it is derived from existing identity data including user roles, assignments, and attributes. The policy is associated with what you are, not who you are, which is ideal for dynamic environments. At its basic level, ABAC uses an ‘IF/THEN/AND’ model to protect the data itself. This model is then applied to data via policy, checking attributes and applying the appropriate permissions (aka “digital rights”). As a result, DRM can be easily deployed across enterprises with a small number of dynamic policies without complex encryption key management, resulting in a significant reduction of management costs.

To learn more about digital rights management’s benefits when enhanced with ABAC, please review NextLabs white paper on “A New Approach to Enterprise Digital Rights Management.”