Whether you distribute digital content on CD media, the
Web, or both, you're engaged in ecommerce (and probably
were before that trendy e-term was coined). And by anybody's
calculation, the amount of ecommerce-especially Web-based-will
skyrocket, with some estimates that within five years it
will amount to 10% of U.S. GDP. Ecommerce will reduce distribution
costs and stimulate demand, largely due to the ease of digital-especially
On the other hand, recent events with MP3 versions of
licensed music emphasize how difficult it can be to control
digital products once they've been delivered-like so many
sorcerer's apprentices, they can multiply unbidden. Complicating
the problem, digital documents may be merely containers
for virtually any type of information object-XML, sound,
or even video, or the content may exist as only one type
of digital asset such as music. Tracking this content and
assuring you have reasonable control is becoming increasingly
Recently solution choices have increased, and some offer
control over many types of content wherever it resides.
Features now even include supporting subscription, rights
management, and workflow. Even low-end solutions are a far
cry from a couple years ago when you could purchase what
amounted to Acrobat plug-ins with security that was cumbersome
to manage and easy to circumvent. Not surprisingly, the
function/price performance range has also increased, from
a large number of server-based solutions to a very few standalone
solutions. Price ranges from a $2,500 one-time authoring
fee to over 100 times that figure.
None of the products has yet become a household name.
Two-thirds of the high-end solution vendors are recent startups:
Authentica's PageVault, Web Vault, and MailVault (for Microsoft
Outlook and Exchange); ContentGuard; and Datum's Confidential
Courier. PageVault typifies the industrial-strength security
products and touts itself for protecting critical information
like trade secrets, chip designs, and Merger & Acquisition
activities. Authentica's products allow enterprises to retain
access control of their business information even after
delivery across the Internet. Authentica cites Cambridge
Technology Visions (Burlington, MA) as using PageVault to
control M&A; information down to the page level, including
who can see the document, when they can see it, whether
they can copy or print the document, whether they can copy
it, and when screen and printed watermarks are displayed.
ContentGuard Inc., a spin-off from Xerox (with strategic
alliances and investments by both Xerox and Microsoft) combines
patented research with an open source XML-based markup language
called XRML (Extensible Rights Markup Language). ContentGuard
offers a comprehensive solution from workflow to content
protection and integrity, rights specification and enforcement,
usage tracking, and royalty management. ContentGuard Inc.
is working with Adobe to integrate support for PDF technology
while Microsoft-an investor in Content-Guard-is developing
its own Windows e-book reader, "Microsoft Reader," competing
with Adobe's Acrobat Reader.
Confidential Courier, using its own security-patented
techniques, can secure a variety of digital assets: Acrobat
PDF, word processor, HTML, images, data, and even executables
such as EXEs and DLLs. Distributors develop "CourierPak"
collections of up to 50,000 files which they can distribute
on standalone optical or magnetic media or via the Web.
Target platforms include UNIX and the Windows family. Like
many systems, Confidential Courier uses RSA encryption.
Optional capabilities include the ability to name specific
applications that can use the encrypted information, providing
expiration dates for encrypted information, and server-based
management of keys. If you name a specific application to
use the data (e.g., Acrobat Reader), and someone uses Windows
Explorer to copy an encrypted file, that action makes the
file unusable since only Reader is allowed to open the file.
Adobe's much-touted PDF Merchant (server side) and Web
Buy (client plug-in) are not designed for distributing libraries
of PDF files nor for distribution on standalone media. Rather
they are for distributing individual Acrobat-based e-books.
Web Buy is Adobe technology that lets you download encrypted
files from the Web and unlock them to read on a single personal
computer or reading device. PDF Merchant is a server-based
technology that can be integrated into ecommerce and transaction
systems. Using a lock-and-key metaphor, PDF Merchant is
the lock and Web Buy (Acrobat plug-in) is the key. Adobe
has lined up big names to use its technology: Barnes & Noble,
Fatbrain.com, PriceWaterhouseCoopers, and R.R. Donnelley,
On a smaller scale, SoftLock offers a combination ecommerce
and secure Web distribution method, for Acrobat PDF files
on Windows platforms only. SoftLock's approach lets you
view an excerpt before purchase. If you decide to buy the
product (or a gift voucher for someone else), you (or they)
download it and associated key files that permit viewing
it only on the PC on which it was downloaded.
Want a solution for on- or offline secure distribution
of document collections? One intriguing vendor-the only
one we know that can also secure large offline collections--is
FileOpen Systems. This vendor has a server-based encryption
and distribution engine (FileOpen WebPublisher), as well
as a desktop solution (FileOpen Publisher) for $2,500 which
allows you to secure and distribute your Acrobat documents
freely over the Web, email, or CD-ROM. FileOpen Publisher
even includes an installer, and your customers need not
remember a password to open and use the resulting seamless
product. Even with its modest cost, you get industrial-strength
controls such as guarantees against unauthorized copying
or use, and subscription support so that your documents
can be available only within timeframes you specify. FileOpen
Publisher's data encryption is performed using its proprietary
techniques plus RC4 technology as licensed by Adobe from
RSA Data Security Inc. Although FileOpen currently secures
only Acrobat content, it plans to extend its reach to other
content including XML.
Whether your business involves Web or off-line delivery,
Acrobat or other content, secure solutions supporting your
ecommerce plans are emerging.