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The security was good, but it wasn't enough. The extra-nets didn't prevent people from printing and saving files, or forwarding extranet passwords to others. Clients facing new regulations wanted assurance that their proprietary information was safeguarded. And in merger and acquisition situations where rival companies see each others' confidential information, clients wanted guarantees that their intellectual property wasn't stolen if a deal fell through.

Kesner tackled the problem with ERM. While consumer digital rights management technology protects music and movies, enterprise rights management software allows businesses to restrict who can access documents, what they can do with them and for what length of time.

"We're involved in cases where the primary assets of our clients are great ideas, and they don't want their great ideas widely shared," Kesner says. "With enterprise rights management, we can control access and keep their secrets."

Enterprise rights management is technology that allows corporations to continuously control and protect documents, email and other corporate content through the use of encryption and security policies that determine access rights.

Industry analysts say ERM software is an innovative tool that could stem the rising tide of corporate data breaches throughout the nation. The technology can limit document access to specific computers, place expiration dates on access rights, and prevent people from saving,

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printing and cutting and pasting documents. Each time users try to access a protected document, they have to go through an authentication process to prove they have the right to view it. So even if electronic documents fall into the wrong hands, they're protected, says Trent Henry, analyst at the Burton Group.

"If a user means to send a sales report to Joe A., but inadvertently sends it to Joe B., the rights management technology prevents Joe B. from opening it," Henry says.

While analysts give ERM high marks, it's still a nascent market with a small--but increasing--number of companies deploying the technology. It's not cheap, either. For a 3,750-user installation, ERM software costs an average of $300,000 plus $66,200 in annual maintenance costs, says Jon Oltsik, senior analyst at Enterprise Strategy Group.

Despite its cost and infancy, here's a look at three businesses that have taken the plunge:

This was first published in October 2006

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