Adobe Digital Rights Management

By Francis Preston

An Introduction by Francis Preston, Senior Architect, 4Point


What is Adobe Digital Rights Management (DRM)? If you are asking this question then you have probably been asking yourself how do I protect my documents and what technology is available to help me achieve my goal?


Without a doubt, any organization that is concerned with protecting intellectual property and or personal information, while still being able to distribute the material in a secure manner, struggles with how to truly achieve that goal.



In the real world it is common practice to produce a variety of documents that often contain confidential and mission critical information. Organizations frequently have NDA’s and some level of restricted access to documents. But, in the end once a user has a physical electronic copy of a document on their system you loose the ability to control how and who gets to see that document. You also loose the ability to track who views the document, how often they view the document or is someone who is unauthorised attempting to view the document. This is true for employees as well as suppliers or contractors. Once that document has been distributed you have no clue what happens to it.


So how do you truly secure all of that material beyond locking everything in a vault under heavily armed guards? Not a practical option! Enter Adobe DRM, essentially the gatekeeper for all secured documents.


The Adobe DRM is part of the Adobe AEM suite of products known as AEM Security and does provide an encompassing model of securing documents, PDF and MS Office files. The DRM model allows you to wrap a document in an encrypted envelope and provides for a very granular level of control and monitoring. Who can have access to a document and for how long. In addition to general access you can control if the user is able to print, copy or edit the document as well.


Adobe DRM environment accomplishes this level of security based on a blend of encryption and web based server interactions that is built into a secured PDF. When securing an MS Office document a free plugin is required from Adobe.


The process of protecting a document is reasonably straightforward once the DRM environment has been set up. Digital Rights Management relies on defined policies to control the access to a given document. A Policy can be for a specific document or a group of documents depending on your requirements.


The definition of a Policy, is a collection of rules and a list of users that are permitted to view a document. The policy is used to first define who can open a document and if they can perform the following tasks:


·         View only

·         View and have copy privileges

·         View and print

·         View, copy and print

·         View and full edit


In addition to controlling what a user can do with a protected document, the policy can be set to limit the amount of time that the document would be active. This can be done by date i.e. the document would no longer be available after August 1, 2015. You can also specify a date range from date to date, this would allow you to distribute a document prior to a release date and ensure that all users would be able to view the document on the specified date and time but not before. Finally you can specify how long a document is valid for by indicating the number of days it is valid for.


The policy also allows you to select the level of encryption you wish to use which is currently 128 bit or 256 bit encryption.


This article is the first in a series of articles diving into the Adobe AEM Security features. In future articles we will look at the type of tracking that is available when a user accesses a protected document. Then we can look at the variety of implementation models that can be achieved using this environment with policies, policy sets, and internal, external users.  We will also take a look at a basic implementation of an Adobe DRM server and a standard architecture commonly employed.

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