Microsoft refute self-destruct email claims

Microsoft refute self-destruct email claims

By Stuart Finlayson

Microsoft has said the fears expressed by the records management community over the expiration date set functionality within its Office 2003 software are down to a misunderstanding of how the software works and are not grounded in fact.

The Information Rights Management (IRM) functionality within Office 2003, which can be applied to Outlook messages and Word, Excel and PowerPoint documents, allows the creator of a message to limit the ability of the recipient to forward, print or copy the message. It even allows the sender to set an expiration date on the life of the message.

It is this expiration date, or 'self-destruct' functionality, as it has been described, that has led to confusion and fears that important documents that need to be kept will simply vanish into thin air.

Concerns over this functionality even prompted the State Records Authority of New South Wales to issue a recommendation that public offices using Office 2003 should block the use of the IRM functionality to their employees.

While admitting that there has been a lack of clarity over IRM, Jane Huxley, Director of Information and Worker Client Business Groups at Microsoft, stressed that users of the function would not be subjected to the permanent loss of important documents.

"I think there is a lot of confusion around (IRM) in the market, and where there is confusion, I can understand why people would be unclear about it," said Huxley.

"IRM is a good piece of technology for people who have a very specific need to control information. It is not switched on by default and it does not destroy emails or make documents disappear. I do think that we probably could've been a little clearer up front about that and helped people to understand it a little more."

While acknowledging that the ability to set an expiration date on delivered messages does exist, it is what happens when this expiration date is reached that has been misinterpreted, which according to Huxley, has caused unnecessary alarm.

"Making a message not visible and destroying it is two very different things. Documents do not disappear – they are still in the mail store. The information remains on the server in its original state. What is does is it prevents people from accidentally forwarding, deleting or copying sensitive information, but a determined individual can still get to it."

In spite of that, Huxley admits that this functionality may still prove to be a turn off to many.

"This technology probably isn't going to be for everybody. It may not be appropriate, particularly where confusion or concerns exist. Basically, this is a way of controlling information from falling into the hands of a malicious user or protecting information that may be time sensitive."

Related Article:

NSW Records Office urges block of Microsoft's email 'self destruct'