KuppingerCole Analysts' View on Information Classification & Secure Information Sharing
With the amount of digital assets a modern company has to deal with growing exponentially, the need to access them any time from any place, across various devices and platforms has become a critical factor for business success. This does not include just the employees – to stay competitive, modern businesses must be increasingly connected to their business partners, suppliers, current and future customers and even smart devices (or things). New digital businesses therefore have to be agile and connected.
Unsurprisingly, the demand for solutions that provide strongly protected storage, fine-grained access control and secure sharing of sensitive digital information is extremely high nowadays, with vendors rushing to bring their various solutions to the market. Of course, no single information sharing solution can possibly address all different and often conflicting requirements of different organizations and industries, and the sheer number and diversity of such solutions is a strong indicator for this. Vendors may decide to support just certain types of storage or document formats, concentrate on solving a specific pain points of many companies like enabling mobile access, or design their solutions for specific verticals only.
Traditional approach to securing sensitive information is storing it in a secured repository on-premise or in the cloud. By combining strong encryption and customer managed encryption keys or in the most extreme cases even implementing Zero Knowledge Encryption principle, vendors are able to address even the strictest security and compliance requirements. However, as soon as a document leaves the repository, traditional solutions are no longer able to ensure its integrity or to prevent unauthorized access to it.
Information Rights Management (IRM) offers a completely different, holistic approach towards secure information sharing. Evolving from earlier Digital Rights Management technologies, the underlying principle behind IRM is data-centric security. Essentially, each document is wrapped in a tiny secured container and has its own access policy embedded directly in it. Each time an application needs to open, modify or otherwise access the document, it needs to validate user permissions with a central authority. If those permissions are changed or revoked, this will be immediately applied to the document regardless of its current location. The central IRM authority also maintains a complete audit trail of document accesses.
Thus, IRM is the only approach that can protect sensitive data at rest, in motion, and in use. In the post-firewall era, this approach is fundamentally more future-proof, flexible and secure than any combination of separate technologies addressing different stages of the information lifecycle. However, it has one fatal flaw: IRM only works without impeding productivity if your applications support it. Although IRM solutions have gone a long way from complicated on-premise solutions towards cloud-based completely managed services, their adoption rate is still quite low. Probably the biggest reason for that is lack of interoperability between different IRM implementations, but arguably more harmful is the lack of general awareness that such solutions even exist! However, recently the situation has changed, with several notable vendors increasing efforts in marketing their IRM-based solutions.
One of the pioneers and certainly the largest such vendor is Microsoft. With the launch of their cloud-based Azure Rights Management services in 2014, Microsoft finally made their IRM solution affordable not just for large enterprises. Naturally, Microsoft’s IRM is natively supported by all Microsoft Office document formats and applications. PDF documents, images or text files are natively supported as well, and generic file encapsulation into a special container format is available for all other document types. Ease of deployment, flexibility and support across various device platforms, on-premise and cloud services make Azure RMS the most comprehensive IRM solution in the market today.
However, other vendors are able to compete in this field quite successfully as well either by adding IRM functionality into their existing platforms or by concentrating on delivering more secure, more comprehensive or even more convenient solutions to address specific customer needs.
A notable example of the former is Intralinks. In 2014, the company has acquired docTrackr, a French vendor with an innovative plugin-free IRM technology. By integrating docTrackr into their secure enterprise collaboration platform VIA, Intralinks is now able to offer seamless document protection and policy management to their existing customers. Another interesting solution is Seclore FileSecure, which provides a universal storage- and transport-neutral IRM extension for existing document repositories.
Among the vendors that offer their own IRM implementations one can name Covertix, which offers a broad portfolio of data protection solutions with a focus on strong encryption and comprehensive access control across multiple platforms and storage services. On the other end of the spectrum on can find vendors like Prot-On, which focus more on ease of use and seamless experience, providing their own EU-based cloud service to address local privacy regulations.
For more in-depth information about leading vendors and products in the file sharing and collaboration market please refer to KuppingerCole’s Leadership Compass on Secure Information Sharing.
Last year saw an unprecedented interest in protection of corporate data. With several high-profile losses of intellectual property organisations have started looking for a better way.
For the past 30 years the bastion against data loss has been network devices. We have relied on routers, switches and firewalls to protect our classified data and ensure it’s not accessed by un-authorised persons. Databases were housed on protected sub-nets to which we could restrict access on the basis of IP address, a Kerberos ticket or AD group membership.
But there are a couple of reasons that this approach is no longer sufficient. Firstly, with the relentless march of technology the network perimeter is increasingly “fuzzy”. No longer can we rely on secure documents being used and stored on the corporate network. Increasingly we must share data with business partners and send documents external to the corporate network. We need to store documents on Cloud storage devices and approve external collaborators to access, edit, print and save our documents as part of our company’s business processes.
Secondly, we are increasingly being required to support mobile devices. We can no longer rely on end-point devices that we can control with a standard operating environment and a federated login. We must now support tablets and smartphone devices that may be used to access our protected documents from public spaces and at unconventional times of the day.
As interest in a more sophisticated way to protect documents has risen, so have the available solutions. We are experiencing unprecedented interest in Information Rights Management (IRM) whereby a user’s permission to access or modify a document is validated at the time access is requested. When a document is created the author, or a corporate policy, classifies the document appropriately to control who can read it, edit it, save it or print it. IRM can also be used to limit the number of downloads of a document or time-limit access rights. Most solutions in this space support AD Rights Management and Azure Rights Management; some adopt their own information rights management solution with end-point clients that manage external storage or emailing.
Before selecting a solution companies should understand their needs. A corporate-wide secure document repository solution for company staff is vastly different from a high-security development project team sharing protected documents with collaboration partners external to the company. A CIA approach to understanding requirements is appropriate:
Never has there been a better time to put in-place a secure data sharing infrastructure that leverages an organisation’s identity management environment to protect corporate IP, while at the same time enhance business process integration.
In November 2015 Microsoft and Secure Islands announced that Microsoft is to acquire Secure Islands. Secure Islands is a provider of automated classification for documents and further technologies for protecting information. The company already has tight integration into Microsoft’s Azure Rights Management Services (RMS), a leading-edge solution for Secure Information Sharing.
After completing the acquisition, Microsoft plans full integration of Secure Islands’ technology into Azure RMS, which will further enhance the capabilities of the Microsoft product, in particular by enabling interception of data transfer from various sources on-premise and in the cloud, and by automated and, if required, manual classification.
The announcement confirms Microsoft's focus and investment into the Secure Information Sharing market, with protecting information at the information source (e.g. document) itself being one of the essential elements of any Information Security strategy. Protecting what really needs to be protected – the information – obviously (and if done right) is the best strategy for Information Security, in contrast to indirect approaches such as server security or network security.
By integrating Secure Islands' capabilities directly into Microsoft Azure RMS, Microsoft now can deliver an even more comprehensive solution to its customers. Furthermore, Microsoft continues working with its Azure RMS partner ecosystem in providing additional capabilities to its customers.
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