Protecting Controlled Unclassified Information with DRM Security

DRM security

The standards published by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) for compliance in non-federal organizations ensure consistency in the protection of information in both federal and non-federal organizations. The focus is, however, mostly on non-federal organizations as those within the fold of the federal government already have similar measures in place. Also, as per the NIST SP 800-171 standards, there is an introduction of regulatory and statutory requirements to protect Controlled Unclassified Information (CUI) if it exists in an organization. Assuming you have such information, you may be obligated to share the same with specific individuals within your organization and with certain third parties.

If you already have the files in PDF format, you are already well on your way to compliance. Document DRM security can help you achieve certain aspects of CUI protection standards in the following ways.

Ensuring Information Security

Encryption is the very first step as it only enables authorized personnel to view the information.  Then you need DRM controls to ensure that after the recipients get the documents, the files cannot be edited, modified or saved in a different format from the one you provided them in.  Plugins and passwords are used in many document security products, but these provide weak security so you should avoid any systems that use them.

Most document DRM systems provide dynamic watermarking. With this feature, all opened documents are embedded with information on the user. Authorized users probably would not risk making or sharing copies because they know they are unlikely to get away with it as any copies would have their personal information on it. So, even if a user considered unauthorized distribution, the watermark would serve as a deterrent.

 Helping Control Access

Document DRM gives you complete control over who has access to your documents since only you have the power to share your documents. So, you control who receives what documents, when they do so, and even from which specific places they can access your documents. For example, if you decide that a document should always stay in your office building, then that would be the only place where the users can access the file.

 Logging Document Use

Monitoring document use is one of the most effective tools to ensure your documents remain secure. After all, how can you know if there is a potential breach of security if you do not understand how people are using your documents? This situation necessitates that you periodically check how many times a particular document has been opened and any other document functions have been carried out during this period. These functions may include printing.

Also, you should note from where documents are accessed and with what frequency. You are likely to notice trends and patterns that could tell you if there is unusual and suspicious behavior going on.

 Maintaining Control over Document Availability

It is not enough to control who gets specific documents. You should go a step further and limit the devices from which they can access the files. For example, mobile devices are a particular danger to document security as they possess an uncanny ability to share data easily. For this reason, their use should be limited and, if possible, non-existent.

You will also realize that some situations necessitate that you allow the printing of your files. You need not do this indiscriminately by giving an individual control over how he or she prints the document. You can limit the number of prints for easier control and accountability and watermark and log print use for added security.

Also, by stopping screenshots from being taken, you can limit the number of documents in circulation to only the ones in your control.

Ensuring Document Inaccessibility When the Need Arises

Leaving documents permanently in the care of recipients could prove dangerous. So, to be on the safe side, you can limit for how long authorized users can access a file. Also, this is an area where the ability to log document use comes in handy. If a particular document use trend appears suspect, you can revoke access while you get to the bottom of the situation.

Also, some regulations determine how long a document should remain in the custody of your organization and by extension in the care of your employees and any third parties involved. Setting expiry dates to comply with these dates makes the situation a whole lot easier than if you had to delete files at the appointed time manually.


You do not have to use a document DRM system to protect controlled unclassified information. However, it makes it so much easier to protect CUI as well as other files and documents in the form of PDFs. For this convenience, you should consider adding it to your document protection toolkit. It is also likely to ensure you comply with the NIST standards. So, why not choose to implement it?