Adobe server software puts a lock on docs

The software maker announces a new server product for controlling access to PDF documents, mirroring security changes made by Microsoft in its latest version of Office.

David Becker Staff Writer, CNET News.com
David Becker
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David Becker
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Adobe Systems introduced a piece of server software on Tuesday for restricting access to electronic documents, mirroring security changes made by Microsoft in its latest version of Office.

Adobe Policy Server, which the company expects to release by the end of 2004, is designed to store and administer security rules for documents based on Adobe's portable document format (PDF). Using the new server tools, workers within an organization can specify who can access a PDF file and when and what rights the viewer has to print, forward or modify the file.

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The functions are similar to capabilities Microsoft built into Office 2003, the latest version of its productivity software. But the Information Rights Management tools built into Office 2003 require organizations be running both Windows Server 2003, Microsoft's latest server operating system, and Windows Rights Management Services security tools.

Adobe's server package will work with a variety of backend computing systems and any of the numerous operating systems that can run the Adobe Reader Client, said John Landwehr, group manager for security solutions and strategy at the San Jose, Calif.-based company. "The cross-platform aspect is very important to the clients we talked with," he said. "They really want a system that will integrate well into a heterogeneous environment."

Policy Server builds on security features already in the PDF format, which is well-known for creating secure forms of documents, Landwehr said.

"We do have a great reputation with PDF for locking down a document," he said. "We're really expanding the capabilities we've been offering in PDF, to provide more granular control of who can do what to a document."

Policy Server will allow content creators to set a range of options for a document, including how often the server is contacted to verify permissions. Administrators can even define a "lease period," within which the recipient has limited rights to use a document without checking in with the server, allowing workers to be more productive offline.

Permissions can also be changed as the nature and use of a document changes, Landwehr said. These include "shredding" instructions that destroy an obsolete version of a document and instruct the recipient to retrieve the current version.

"It was very important to clients to have the capability to change the policy on a document after the document is distributed," he said. "Policies in organizations are very dynamic, and documents need to reflect that."

Adobe is in the midst of a broad effort to expand PDF--already widely used for distributing documents over the Internet--into a multipurpose tool for sharing business data.