Protect sensitive messages and documents by using Information Rights Management (IRM) in Office 2016
Summary: Use Information Rights Management (IRM) in Office 2016 to specify permission for accessing and using sensitive documents and messages.
IRM enables individuals and administrators to define who has access to documents, workbooks, and presentations. This feature safeguards sensitive information against unauthorized printing, forwarding, or copying. This article provides an overview of Information Rights Management (IRM) technology in Office applications. It includes guidance on setting up and installing the necessary software for implementing IRM in Office 2016, along with links to additional information.
Azure Rights Management and Active Directory Rights Management are persistent document-level information protection technologies from Microsoft. They implement permissions and authorization to protect sensitive information. Restricting permission for a document or message with IRM ensures that unauthorized individuals can't print, forward, or copy it. The usage restrictions are embedded within the document or email message, traveling with the file wherever it goes. Microsoft Office implements support for these technologies by using Information Rights Management (IRM) features.
"You can create documents or email messages with restricted permissions in Office Professional Plus 2016 and Microsoft 365 Apps for enterprise. This feature is also available in the stand-alone versions of Excel 2016, Outlook 2016, PowerPoint 2016, InfoPath 2016, and Word 2016. IRM content that is created in Office 2016 can be viewed in Office 2007, Office 2010, Office 2013, or Office 2016.
For more information about IRM and Active Directory Rights Management Services (AD RMS) features that are supported in Office 2016, Office 2013, Office 2010, and Office 2007, see AD RMS and Microsoft Office Deployment Considerations. For information about IRM and Azure RMS see How applications support Azure Rights Management and What is Azure Rights Management.
IRM support in Office 2016 helps organizations and knowledge workers address two fundamental needs:
Restricted permissions for sensitive information IRM helps protect sensitive information from unauthorized access and reuse. Organizations rely on firewalls, sign in security-related measures, and other network technologies to help protect sensitive intellectual property. However, a key limitation with these technologies is that authorized users can share information with unauthorized individuals, leading to a potential security policy breach.
Information privacy, control, and integrity Information workers often work with confidential or sensitive information. By using IRM, employees don't have to depend on the discretion of other people to ensure that sensitive materials remain inside the company. IRM prevents users' ability to forward, copy, or print confidential information by disabling those functions in documents and messages that use restricted permissions.
For information technology (IT) managers, IRM helps enable the enforcement of existing corporate policies about document confidentiality, workflow, and email retention. IRM is a valuable tool for executives and security officers. It minimizes the risk of key company information reaching the wrong people. This protection covers accidental leaks, careless mistakes, and intentional attacks.
How IRM works in Office 2016
Office users apply permissions to messages or documents by using options in the File menu; for example, by using the Restrict Access option, under Info, Protect Document. The protection options that are available are based on Rights Policy Templates that you can customize for your organization. Rights Policy Templates are groups of IRM rights that you package together in a predefined policy that users can apply to their documents. Office 2016 also provides a predefined Do Not Forward option that grants specific rights to the recipients of an email. To learn more about Rights Policy Templates, see Configuring and managing templates for Azure Information Protection.
In addition to using the options from the File menu, users can select Share Protected from the Office ribbon when you install the Rights Management sharing application for Windows. This application also enables additional functionality, such as the ability to track consumption of shared documents. For more information, see Rights Management Sharing Application for Windows.
To protect a document in Office 2016 using IRM, you must have an on-premises AD RMS or an Azure RMS subscription either as part of Office 365 or as a standalone service.
Using IRM with Active Directory Rights Management Services
Enabling IRM in your organization requires access to a computer running Active Directory Rights Management Services (AD RMS) for Windows Server 2012 or Windows Server 2012 R2, or to a cloud tenant with an Azure RMS subscription. The permissions are enforced by using authentication, typically by using Active Directory Domain Services (AD DS) or Microsoft Entra ID.
Organizations can define the permissions policies that appear in Office applications by creating rights policy templates. For example, you might define a rights policy template named Marketing Confidential, which specifies that documents or email messages that use the policy can only be opened by users inside that department. While there's no limit to the number of permission policies that can be created, Office can only display up to 20 policy templates at a time. Azure Rights Management provides two predefined organization-wide templates. You can create your own custom templates or disable the existing ones if needed.
With AD RMS on Windows Server 2012, users can share rights-protected documents between companies that have a federated trust relationship. For more information, see Active Directory Rights Management Services Overview and Federating AD RMS. With Azure RMS, the ability to securely collaborate between organizations is built in and doesn't require you to complete any special configuration.
In Outlook 2016, you can create and read protected emails without special email server settings. However, Exchange Server 2016 enhances this feature. It provides RMS protection for Unified Messaging voicemail messages and automatic IRM protection for messages in Outlook 2016 through Microsoft Outlook protection rules. Additionally, enabling IRM integration in Exchange Server allows users to create and consume protected emails in Outlook Web App and in Exchange ActiveSync IRM-enabled mobile devices. For more information, Information Rights Management in Exchange 2016.
Setting up IRM for Office 2016
Applying IRM permissions to documents or email messages requires the following:
Access to AD RMS for Windows Server 2012 or Windows Server 2012 R2, or to Azure Rights Management in order obtain licenses to consume content.
Rights Management client software. This client software is included in Windows Vista and later versions. The Rights Management sharing application provides an optional add-on that enhances IRM functionality in Office.
Microsoft Office 2007, Office 2010, Office 2013, or Office 2016. Only specific editions of Office enable users to create IRM permissions.
Setting up RMS server access
AD RMS and Azure RMS manage licensing and other server functions that work with IRM to provide rights management to client applications such as Office 2016. An RMS-enlightened client program, such as Office 2016, lets users create and view rights-protected content.
Setting up the Rights Management on the client
Windows Vista, Windows 7, Windows 8.1, and Windows 10 come with RMS client software. To activate IRM features in Office with the RMS sharing application, users can install it on their own. Alternatively, administrators can deploy it automatically for users.
Windows Vista, Windows 7, and Windows 8.1 are no longer supported.
Defining and deploying rights policy templates for Office 2016
As in Office 2007, Office 2010, and Office 2013, Office 2016 includes the option for users to apply individual rights to documents and messages, such as Read and Change in Word 2016, Excel 2016, PowerPoint 2016, and Visio 2016. In Outlook, you can use the Do Not Forward option that allows you to confidently share email, granting only limited rights to the intended recipients of the message. You can create custom rights policy templates for your organization. These templates are automatically deployed to clients, enabling users to apply them effortlessly.
You create and manage rights policy templates by using the administration site on your RMS or AD RMS server. For information about how to create, configure, and post custom policy templates, see AD RMS Rights Policy Templates Deployment Step-by-Step Guide.
The rights that you can include in permissions policy templates for Office 2016 are listed in the following sections.
Each IRM right that is listed in the following table can be enforced by Office 2016 applications that are configured to work with AD RMS or Azure RMS.
IRM permissions rights
|Gives the user every right that is listed in this table, and the right to change permissions that are associated with content. Expiration doesn't apply to users who have Full Control.
|Allows the user to open IRM content. This right corresponds to Read Access in the Office 2016 user interface.
|Allows the user to modify the document's content. This right includes the ability to sort and filter content in Excel.
|Allows the user to save a file.
|Allows the user to make a copy of any part of a file and paste that part of the file into the work area of another application.
|Allows the user to save content in another file format by using the Save As command. Depending on the application that uses the file format that you select, the content might be saved without protection.
|Allows the user to print the contents of a file.
|Allows the user to run macros against the contents of a file, and perform programmatic access to content from other applications and link to content across worksheets.
|Allows an email recipient to forward an IRM email message and to add or remove recipients from the To: and Cc: lines. Having this right doesn't mean you can give access to more users. Even if someone forwards the content to the user, if they don't have access rights from the template, they won't be able to open it. Not granting this right in a template isn't equivalent to using the Do Not Forward option in Outlook, since that option grants rights only to the users specified in the To: and Cc: lines of the email.
|Allows email recipients to reply to an IRM email message.
|Allows email recipients to reply to all users on the To: and Cc: lines of an IRM email message.
|Gives the user permission to view the rights associated with a file. Office ignores this right.
Predefined groups of permissions
Office 2016 provides the following predefined groups of rights that users can choose from when they create IRM content. The options are available in the Permission dialog box for Word 2016, Excel 2016, PowerPoint 2016, and Visio 2016. In the Office application, select the File tab, choose Info, choose the Protect Document button, select Restrict Access, and then choose from the rights policy templates listed, or choose Restricted Access. If you choose Restricted Access, you're given the option of selecting one of the predefined permission groups for each individual user.
Predefined read/change permissions groups
|IRM predefined group
|Users who have Read permission have View rights.
|Users who have Change permission have rights to View, Edit, Extract, and Save.
In Outlook 2016, users can select the following predefined group of rights when they create an email item. To access the option from the email item, choose File, Info, and then Set Permissions. Next, choose from the Rights Policy Templates listed, which are populated by the Rights Management server or service, or choose Do Not Forward, which implements the following rights.
Predefined "Do not forward" group
|IRM predefined group
|In Outlook, Don't Forward to an email grants users on the To:, Cc:, and Bcc: lines the View, Edit, Reply, and Reply All rights.
In Word 2016, Other IRM permissions can be specified for parts of a document. From Info, Protect Document, choose Restrict Editing, and select the More Users option to add users with rights to edit the indicated sections of a document. For even more restriction options, choose Restrict permission at the bottom of the Restrict Editing panel. For example, users can specify an expiration date, restrict other users from printing or copying content, and so on.
Configuring IRM settings for Office 2016
You can lock down many settings to customize IRM by using the Office Group Policy template (Office). Use this Group Policy template to configure Group Policy Objects in Active Directory and shouldn't be confused with the rights policy templates. In addition, there are IRM configuration options that can only be configured by using registry key settings.
Office 2016 IRM settings
The settings that you can configure for IRM in Group Policy are listed in the following table. In Group Policy, these settings are under User Configuration\Policies\Administrative Templates\Microsoft Office 2016\Manage Restricted Permissions.
IRM settings for Group Policy
|Active Directory timeout for querying one entry for group expansion
|Specify the time-out value for querying an Active Directory entry when you expand a group.
|Additional permissions request URL
|Specify the location where a user can obtain more information about how to access the IRM content when consuming content protected in this client.
|Always expand groups in Office when restriction permission for documents
|Group name is automatically expanded to display all the members of the group when users apply permissions to a document by selecting a group name in the Permission dialog box.
|Always require users to connect to verify permission
|Users who open a rights-managed Office document must connect to the RMS service to verify that they're still entitled to consume the content by acquiring a new IRM license.
|Never allow users to specify groups when restricting permission for documents
|Return an error when users select a group in the Permission dialog box: ''You cannot publish content to Distribution Lists. You may only specify email addresses for individual users.''
|Prevent users from changing permission on rights managed content
|If enabled, users have the ability to access content with existing IRM permissions. However, they can't apply IRM permissions to new content or set rights for a document.
|Turn off Information Rights Management user interface
|Disable all Rights Management-related options within the user interface of all Office applications.
Office 2016 IRM registry key options
The settings that you can configure for IRM in the registry are listed in the following tables.
The following IRM registry settings are located in HKCU\Software\Microsoft\Office\16.0\Common\DRM.
IRM registry key options
|1 = The box is checked.
0 = The box is cleared.
|This registry key toggles the default value of the Users can request additional permissions from check box.
|0 = Microsoft Outlook is used
1 = Microsoft Outlook isn't used
|The Permission dialog box uses Microsoft Outlook to validate email addresses that are entered in that dialog box. This causes an instance of Microsoft Outlook to be started when restricting permissions. Disable the option by using this key.
The following IRM registry setting is located in HKCU\Software\Microsoft\Office\16.0\Common\DRM\LicenseServers. There's no corresponding Group Policy setting.
IRM registry setting for license servers
|Key/Hive. Contains DWORD values that have the name of a license server.
|Set to the server URL. If the DWORD value is set to 1, Office automatically obtains a license without prompting.
If the value is zero or there's no registry entry for that server, Office prompts for a license.
http://contoso.com/_wmcs/licensing = 1 is a value for this setting, a user who tries to obtain a license from that server to open a rights-managed document isn't prompted for authorization. This action is the same as the user selecting the checkbox asking not to be notified again the first time that they consume the content.
The following IRM registry setting is located in HKCU\Software\Microsoft\Office\16.0\Common\Security. There's no corresponding Group Policy setting.
IRM registry settings for security
|1 = The file metadata is encrypted.
0 = The metadata is stored in plaintext. The default value is 0.
|Specify whether to encrypt all metadata that is stored inside a rights-managed document.
Encrypted metadata isn't compatible with Azure Information Protection labels. If you use these labels, don't set the value to 1.
In Open XML Formats like docx, xlsx, pptx, etc., users can encrypt Office metadata within a rights-managed file. Alternatively, they can leave the metadata unencrypted, allowing other applications, such as FCI functionality on Windows File Servers, to access the data.
Users can choose to encrypt the metadata by setting a registry key. You can set a default option for users by deploying the registry setting. There's no option for encrypting some of the metadata: all metadata is encrypted or none is encrypted.
In addition, the DRMEncryptProperty registry setting doesn't determine whether non-Office client metadata storage, such as metadata created by SharePoint Server 2016, is encrypted.
Configuring IRM settings for Outlook 2016
In Outlook 2016, users can create and send email messages that with restricted permissions to help prevent messages from being forwarded, printed, or copied. Office 2016 documents, workbooks, and presentations that are attached to messages with restricted permissions are automatically restricted.
As a Microsoft Outlook administrator, you can configure several options for IRM email, such as disabling IRM or configuring local license caching.
The following IRM settings and features can be useful when you configure rights-managed email messaging:
Configure automatic license caching for IRM.
Help enforce an email message expiration period.
Don't use Outlook for validating email addresses for IRM permissions.
To disable IRM in Outlook, you must disable IRM for all Office applications. There is no separate option to disable IRM only in Outlook.
Outlook IRM settings
You can lock down most settings to customize IRM for Microsoft Outlook by using the Microsoft Outlook Group Policy template (Outlk) or the Office Group Policy template (Office). Or, you can configure default settings for most options by using the Office Customization Tool (OCT), which enables users to configure the settings. The OCT settings are in corresponding locations on the Modify user settings page of the OCT.
Outlook IRM options
|Microsoft Outlook 2016\Miscellaneous
|Don't download rights permissions license information for IRM email during Exchange folder sync
|Enable to prevent license information from being cached locally. If enabled, users must connect to the network to retrieve license information to open rights-managed email messages. This option doesn't affect Exchange pre-licensing, which is performed at the server.
|Options > More Options > Delivery options
|When sending a message
|To enforce email expiration, enable and enter the number of days before a message expires. The expiration period is enforced only when users send rights-managed email and the message can't be accessed after the expiration period.
Outlook 2016 IRM registry key options
The Permission dialog box uses Microsoft Outlook to validate email addresses that are entered in that dialog box. This causes an instance of Microsoft Outlook to start when permissions are restricted. You can disable this option by using the registry key that is listed in the following table. There's no corresponding Group Policy or OCT setting for this option.
The following IRM registry setting is located in HKEY_CURRENT_USER\Software\Microsoft\Office\15.0\Common\DRM.
Outlook IRM registry key options
|0 = Microsoft Outlook is used
1 = Microsoft Outlook isn't used
|Disable the option by using this key.
Overview for configuring IRM in Office 2016
You can lock many settings to customize IRM by using the Office 2016 Administrative Template files (Office16.admx) and Microsoft Outlook Group Policy template (Outlk16.admx). In addition, there are IRM configuration options that you can only configure by using registry key settings.
In Outlook 2016, users can create and send email messages with restricted permissions to help prevent messages from being forwarded, printed, or copied and pasted. Office 2016 documents, workbooks, and presentations that are attached to messages with restricted permissions are also automatically restricted.
As a Microsoft Outlook administrator, you can configure several options for IRM email, such as disabling IRM or configuring local license caching. You can also design custom IRM permissions for users, in addition to the default Do Not Forward permissions group.
Before you begin
Before you start deployment, determine the settings that you might have to configure for IRM.
You can download the Office 2016 and Outlook 2016 templates from the Microsoft Download Center, Administrative Template files (ADMX/ADML) for Office.
Turn off Information Rights Management in Office 2016
You can turn off IRM for all Office applications. To turn off IRM in Outlook 2016, you must turn off IRM for all Office applications. There's no separate option to turn off IRM only in Microsoft Outlook.
To turn off IRM in Office 2016 by using Group Policy
In Group Policy, load the Office 2016 template (Office) and locate User Configuration\Policies\Administrative Templates\Microsoft Office 2016\Manage Restricted Permissions.
Choose Turn Off Information Rights Management User Interface.
Configure automatic license caching for Outlook 2016
By default, Outlook 2016 automatically downloads the IRM license for rights-managed email when Outlook synchronizes with Exchange Server. You can configure Outlook 2016 to prevent license information from being cached locally. This forces users to connect to the network to retrieve license information before they can open rights-managed email messages.
To disable automatic license caching for IRM by using Group Policy
In Group Policy, load the Outlook 2016 template (Outlk) and locate User Configuration\Policies\Administrative Templates\Microsoft Outlook 2016\Miscellaneous.
Choose Do not download rights permission license information for IRM email during Exchange folder sync.