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IE beta plugs document leaks

Microsoft releases a test version of an add-on to its Internet Explorer Web browser that promises to help businesses protect files from unauthorized editing or copying.

Microsoft released a plug-in for Internet Explorer that is designed to protect sensitive documents from unauthorized editing or copying--an early step in its effort to encourage corporations to use its software to share sensitive information.

The Rights Management Add-on, available in a beta, or test version, allows permitted users to view files, the company said. The Web browser plug-in is meant to help companies protect sensitive documents, e-mail and other Web-based data from being manipulated, forwarded or copied by unauthorized individuals.

Microsoft recently began a drive to spread the adoption of rights management technology. In a policy e-mail to customers last week, CEO Steve Ballmer outlined plans for digital rights management (DRM) services that could meet mundane business needs as well the needs of the more glamorous entertainment industry.

Over the past few years, DRM technology has been pitched as able to play a key role in the entertainment industry's antipiracy effort as record labels and movie studios have sought ways to prevent their copyrighted music and films from being illegally reproduced. However, the technology offered by a handful of smaller companies did not gain widespread support, whereas Microsoft's DRM technology has slowly made inroads.

Earlier this year, Microsoft released a test version of its Windows Rights Management Services (RMS) security tools for Windows Server 2003. At the time, the Redmond, Wash.-based company said it would launch a test for a wider range of operating systems later.

The corporate-centric RMS product will first be shipped later this year. Initially it will ship separately from the upcoming Windows Server 2003, but subsequently it will be integrated with the operating system, according to Jon Murchison, a Microsoft spokesman. The company has yet to announce pricing for the product.

Using the technology, a business basically can restrict access to authorized individuals or prevent the misuse of corporate information, such as the surreptitiously leaking of sensitive information to competitors. An IE browser with the add-on would serve as a viewer to decode files created in any application that have been protected using the software.

"As these technologies become widespread, their protection will help encourage wider sharing of information within and between organizations, improving communication and productivity by assuring information workers of the confidentiality of their documents and data," Ballmer wrote in last week's policy e-mail.

Critics from the open-source camp have raised concerns about the possibility that non-Microsoft operating systems, software and tools could conceivably be shut out by the technology. Microsoft tried to downplay these concerns.

"RMS technology is platform-agnostic," said Murchison. "It is a technology that can be built upon and called upon by various ISVs (independent software vendors). We are working with a number of partners where they will be taking advantage of it to bring new products to market."

The Rights Management Add-on beta version 1.0 will require the more recent Microsoft operating systems--such as Windows XP, Windows 2000 Service Pack 3 or Windows Server 2003--upon its release. Only Internet Explorer 6 supports the beta version, which is a software prerelease, distributed to collect feedback and to test its performance. The add-on was posted for download Tuesday to .