Can non-Microsoft ERM (electronic rights management) be integrated into MOSS 2007?

Fascinating question: can an organization that has deployed MOSS 2007 plug in another ERM/IRM (Electronic Rights Management) technology into the MOSS back-end, so that documents downloaded from MOSS would be automatically protected with that non-Microsoft ERM technology?

MOSS 2007 (aka SharePoint 2007) provides integration with the Microsoft Information Rights Management (IRM) technology – any documents that are uploaded to an “IRM-enabled” Document Library will automatically be (encrypted and) protected with a specific IRM policy whenever that document is downloaded again.  This depends both on the Microsoft implementation of IRM (RMS) policies (known as “Information Management Policy” in the MOSS SDK) as well as the inclusion of the Microsoft IRM “lockbox” (security processor) library on the MOSS server farm.  As I understand it, the procedure is basically:

  1. MOSS receives the download request from a remote client
  2. MOSS looks up the information management policy that is associated with the document’s List or Content Type (depending where the policy is applied)
  3. MOSS calls an instance of the IRM security processor (installed with the RMS Client on the front-end servers) to (a) encrypt the document, (b) generate the IRM license based on the associated policy, and (c) encrypt the content encryption key with appropriate RM Server’s public key. 
  4. MOSS delivers the protected document to the remote client – otherwise the same way that it would deliver an unprotected document.

Guessing How Third-Party ERM Could Integrate Into MOSS

So theoretically, for a third-party ERM solution to properly intercept the steps in this sequence:

  • the MOSS server would have to request a method/API that is “pluggable”
  • the MOSS server would have to support the ability to “plug” alternative ERM policy services in place of the native Microsoft IRM policy services
  • the MOSS server would have to support the ability to “plug” an alternative security processor in place of the native Microsoft RM security processor
  • the ERM solution would have to implement the pluggable responder for the “policy lookup” service, as well as a replacement UI and business logic framework for the server-side ERM policy “creation/assignment” capability that MOSS provides for IRM
  • the ERM solution would have to support a thread-safe, multi-threaded, rock-solid-stable security processor that could run in a potentially high-volume server environment

Given how much effort Microsoft has gone to in the past couple of years (not without external incentives, of course) to make available and document the means for ISV’s to interoperate with Microsoft client and server technologies, I’d figured there must be some “open protocol” documentation that documents how an ISV would create compatible ERM components to plug into the appropriate locations in a MOSS environment.

I scoured the SharePoint protocols specifications, but there were no specific protocols documents, nor any mention of “information management” in any of the overview documents.

There are some occasional references in the Microsoft Forums and elsewhere that hint at details that might be relevant to a third-party ERM plugin for MOSS, but I can’t tell if this is actually related or if I’m jus chasing spectres:

Aha!  It Appears the Answer is “Yes”

(I thought about erasing and rewriting the above, but there’s probably someone somewhere who thinks the same was I do about this, so I’ll leave it and just share my new insight below).

As always, I really should’ve started with the WSS 3.0 SDK and then branched out into the MOSS SDK and other far-off lands.

It turns out that the WSS SDK had the “secret” locked up in a page entitled “Custom IRM Protectors” (not to be confused with the forum post linked above).  My theory above didn’t nearly guess correctly, but it most closely resembled the “Autonomous Protector”:

Create an autonomous protector if you want the protector to have total control over how the protected files are rights-managed. The autonomous protector has full control over the rights-management process, and can employ any rights-management platform. Unlike the process with an integrated protector, when Windows SharePoint Services invokes an autonomous protector, it passes the specific rights that the user has to the document. Based upon these rights, an autonomous protector is responsible for generating keys for the document and creating rights-managed metadata in the correct format.

The autonomous protector and the client application must use the same rights-management platform.

So for a third-party ERM vendor to support an integrated experience in MOSS, while still using its non-Microsoft ERM client (i.e. not the Microsoft RMS Client), it would have to:

  • provide a COM component on each MOSS web server that implements the I_IrmProtector interface and an I_IrmPolicyInfo_Class object (analogous to my theorized “alternative ERM policy service”).
  • provide a rights management platform that protects (at the server) in a way that’s compatible with protections enforced by their rights management client (e.g. an alternative security processor available either locally or remotely from each MOSS web server)
  • override the default “integrated protectors” for Microsoft Office document types, and (presumably) support the ability to protect the Microsoft Office document types with the autonomous protector(s)

If I’m reading this right, then with a server-accessible rights management platform and one or more autonomous protectors, MOSS would be able to handle the rest of the required functionality: policy storage, UI, management interfaces (business logic), etc.

Now I wonder if anyone has actually implemented this support in their ERM solution…