Make an Informed Choice About Document Security – Encryption vs. DLP vs. DRM vs. ERM

Once you have identified what documents you need to secure, the next obvious question you need to answer is what kind of document security solution you should choose. Unfortunately, there’s no one size fits all solution since different document formats are used in different industries, not to mention the various ways in which they can be shared with respective stakeholders.


So, when you come down to actually opting for a document security solution, the top choices will be the following:

  • Encryption
  • Data Leakage Prevention (DLP)
  • Digital Rights Management (DRM)
  • Enterprise Rights Management (ERM) or Information Rights Management (IRM)

But, which one would be apt for your needs? Let’s find out.


Essentially, encryption includes various types and can range from the simplest solutions to much more complex methods of protecting a document. Yet, it’s perhaps the most basic as well as the most sought-after document protection solution, because it ensures that a document can only be opened and used by those who have the access key.

But, one of the most important things to keep in mind is that anyone with the access key can open the document and make changes to it. For example, if you shared a PDF version of a financial report, a person with the access key can make (authorized or unauthorized) changes to it. So, if you intend to share the information in the document “as is”, you should look at other document security solutions that restrict such editing activities.

Data Leakage Prevention

Quite literally, DLP is concerned with two aspects of document protection: The prevention of unauthorized distribution of a document beyond a defined boundary (such as an internal server) and the encryption of a document for authorized personnel.

DLP usually begins by creating a “corpus” of words and phrases that the DLP system can recognize as sensitive information. The DLP product then crawls and monitors the servers for sensitive documents based on this pre-fed information and prevents unauthorized individuals from accessing the proprietary information.

A huge plus for a DLP system is that protocols are in place to prevent data from being scattered beyond a defined boundary. However, like encryption, DLP has a significant disadvantage in that it ceases to have any control over a document once it has somehow bypassed the security setup and gone out of the designated boundary.

Digital Rights Management

Compared to the two security solutions outlined above, DRM is probably the most versatile and secure way of sharing knowledge and documents online. This is because DRM is essentially a systematic way of applying access controls to documents, digital products, and digital media.


While the USP of the internet is easy accessibility to data, some data (such as intellectual property or trade secrets) is best protected by a robust DRM system. So. proprietary DRM systems are used by all kinds of industries to protect such types of data by applying relevant controls.

With an efficient DRM system, you can even set up document- or location-specific controls, which ensure that certain documents can only be accessed on pre-set locations (for example, on an internal server or a specific laptop) or only by authorized individuals. You can also choose to set up custom access revoke controls based on transfer of ownership, number of views, or time elapsed.

Enterprise Rights Management or Information Rights Management

In essence, ERM or IRM can be considered a subset of DRM with some subtle differences. For example, DRM is more appropriate for static data in the generic sphere (such as a song or an ebook), whereas ERM is more prominently used for dynamic content in the corporate sphere (including the content of an email discussion, which naturally gets updated with new information whenever a stakeholder chimes in, about the development of an app).

Overall, ERM is more appropriate for securing dynamic data over its lifecycle because the initial discussions at the ideation or testing stage is more valuable than when the app has already been released. The end users of ERM are corporations that want to protect their proprietary data (for example, financial reports, trade secrets or intellectual property) as well as organization-specific data (for example, HR reports and employee data).

Choose Wisely After Weighing the Pros and Cons

Each security option has its pros, cons, and limitations. Whether you are a user, solopreneur, business leader or IT personnel, you should think about setting up access restrictions with respect to your sensitive data. The key to choosing the perfect security system is to deliberate on the end result and consequences. Choose wisely!

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