SealedMedia protects Office from digital leaks

Microsoft Office files can be 'sealed' and digitally signed by SealedMedia to ensure that sensitive information does not fall into the wrong hands

Software developer SealedMedia is updating its Microsoft Office security software to provide a method of encrypting and controlling access rights for all Office documents in an enterprise.

About half of all security breaches and intellectual-property thefts happen inside the trusted network -- either through disgruntled employees, partners or suppliers. Because of this, SealedMedia said it concentrates on managing and tracking who creates documents, who reads them and who edits them.

Alan Cornwell, chief operating officer at SealedMedia, told ZDNet UK on Tuesday that documents are generally not very well protected -- usually only with a simple password: "People tend to share passwords, and often the password is sent in the email with the document attached. It is a bit self-defeating," he said.

Cornwall explained that SealedMeda's solution consists of three parts: the sealer, which is used to create protected documents; an unsealer, to read and possibly edit the document; and a licence server, which sits on the Internet and needs to be accessed by the other two programs before a document can be protected or accessed.

The system works by encrypting and digitally signing a document and then creating a policy to allow users to perform certain actions, such as read-only, read and print, or edit. Once "sealed", documents can be freely copied and saved, but before they can be opened, the user needs to enter a password so that access rights can be verified by the licence server.

According to Cornwall, alternative encrypted technologies such as PKI can only protect the documents in transit: "As soon as you open the document, you can do what you like to it," he said.

With SealedMedia's products, if a laptop containing sealed documents is lost or stolen, or if an employee copies a documents to another computer and then leaves the company, that person will no longer be able to access the documents from the moment that their rights are deleted from the licence server:  "If we are informed that a laptop has been stolen, we will change the passwords so the documents can't be opened. If the user has a backup on CD, they can be given a new laptop with the new password and can then access the same content without any major hiccups," he said.

The company calls this "repairable security"; where hardware can be upgraded or documents can be shared by a number of machines, but only authorised users can access protected information.

The next version of SealedMedia's Office security product (version 3.2) will be available at the end of March 2004. It is capable of protecting all Microsoft Office documents as well as html, gif, jpeg and mp3 files, and a perpetual licence will cost between $50 and $400 (£26 and £212) per user, depending on the number of licences purchased.