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15 Ways to Protect Data with Digital Security Watermarks

by | Mar 24, 2022

Everyday business documents continue to be one of the biggest sources of data loss. The US National Guard, Facebook and WikiLeaks data leaks are prime examples of the damage these data leaks can wreak. Even with the best security tools in place, users always seem to be able to find a way to circumvent security. Or, as in most cases, accidentally share data with the wrong audience, creating a serious security issue. Digital security watermarks provide a simple solution to warn users about a document’s sensitivity and intended audience to prevent mishaps. And, when all else fails, they can be extremely helpful in tracking the source of a data leak.

What is a Digital Watermark?

Watermarks have come a long way from rubber stamping or adding the words ‘confidential’ or ‘draft’ in grayscale across a document via a word processor. Today’s digital watermarks embed important data into a document to track its point of origin and/or its owner using details about the user, time/date of access, machine it was accessed on, etc. They act as a digital thumbprint that travels with the document.

Why Should You Use Watermarks?

Applying digital security watermarks to sensitive documents can help prevent data loss, misuse and unauthorized sharing in a variety of ways. They can be used to augment data security practices to:

  • Provide users with a visual reminder that they are handling sensitive information.
  • Supplement user education and training relating to the safe handling of sensitive or proprietary information.
  • Deter users from stealing documents or from taking a picture with their mobile device.
  • Track a document’s chain of custody in the event of a leak.
  • Provide read-only access by displaying the watermarked document in a secure reader that disables, print, copy and sharing capabilities.

What Types of Documents Should You Watermark?

Any document that contains sensitive data that you need to control or restrict access to is a good candidate for watermarking. Common types of data you should consider watermarking include:

  • Intellectual property (IP)
  • Manufacturing plans
  • Product specs and designs
  • Financial documents
  • M&A documents
  • Human Resources (HR) documents
  • Legal contracts
  • Personally Identifiable Information (PII)
  • Protected Healthcare Information (PHI)
  • Federal Contract Information (FCI)
  • Controlled Unclassified Information (CUI)
  • Export Control Data (International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR), Export Administration Regulations (EAR))
  • Classified Information

15 Practical Uses for Digital Security Watermarks

The potential uses for watermarks are endless and can vary according to an organization’s individual needs, the type of data it manages, its industry and any associated regulatory requirements. Here are a few applications of digital security watermarks in enterprise and public sector scenarios.

Enterprise Use Cases

  1. Sharing previews of upcoming products with partners not meant for public distribution. For example, the release of a new toy or a script.
  2. Sharing and/or collaboration of IP and trade secrets with internal stakeholders and/or partners.
  3. Protecting HR documents that contain PII, salary or disciplinary information.
  4. Protecting documents lying on a printer in a public space— think of all those unclaimed documents sitting on the public office printer.
  5. Sharing sensitive documents with third parties.
  6. Protecting images or information posted online.
  7. Clearly identifying that information has additional specific handling instructions, for example, “PROJECT X STAFF ONLY” or “UNCONTROLLED IF PRINTED.”
  8. Automatically applying relevant information such as the related industry, client, project or any other relevant document details.
  9. Applying disclaimers. For example, ‘Document intended for Client X only, any use outside this purpose is not authorized.’
  10. Marking the current document status (Working / Draft / Final / Approved / Released) and recent history / current version + timestamp of a document. For example, ‘This version is approved for public release by Person X.’
  11. Tracking the source of a leaked document – whether accidentally or deliberately shared with an unauthorized audience.
  12. Forensic tracking if a screenshot or photo of sensitive information is taken to track the leak source.

Government & Defense Use Cases

In addition to the use cases above, there are many specific use cases for Government, Defense and the Defense supply chain, including, but not limited to:

  1. Proper tagging of Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) Documents when the data is publicly released.
  2. Securely sharing tactical information for military units (such as OP Orders, travel documents, etc.).
  3. Multinational coalition and intelligence sharing.
  4. Properly tagging and labeling CUI, FCI, ITAR and EAR-controlled data in accordance with government marking requirements.
  5. Labeling and marking classified information according to individual government regulations.

Digital Security Watermarks from archTIS

Manually applying watermarks is prone to human error. For example, if a user forgets the step entirely or marks the data wrong. What if you could automatically ensure documents were watermarked properly?

archTIS solutions dynamically apply user-specific digital security watermarks that can contain user, environmental and data attributes. They dynamically digitally stamp documents in their native application (e.g., Microsoft Word) with any combination of attributes such as user name, IP address, date/time of access, document sensitivity level, intended audience, etc., according to simple, configurable rules to meet business requirements. Watermarks are persistent. Therefore, users can share and edit watermarked document contents – but cannot edit or remove the watermark itself.

For further protection, watermarked documents can be displayed in the Secure Reader, an in-app viewer that provides read-only access, disabling functions such as print, edit, copy and save as. It ensures your most sensitive documents can’t be changed, downloaded or shared. You can also track access to the document via detailed audit logs.

archTIS’ Digital Security Watermarks can be dynamically applied to the following standard file types:

  • Microsoft Office documents (.txt, .csv, .doc, .docx, .xls, .xlsx, .ppt, .pptx)
  • Images (png, .jpg, .jpeg, .tif, .tiff, .bmp)
  • CAD files (dgn, .dwf, .dwfx, .dwg, .dwt, .dxf, .ifc, .iges, .plt, .stl, .cff2)
  • PDF documents

Above: With NC Protect and Kojensi, dynamically apply digital security watermarks and enforce read-only access to prevent copying, pasting, editing, or saving as capabilities.


Want to Add Watermarks to Your Security Toolbox? Contact Us.

Dynamic security watermarks add an additional layer of protection to safeguard sensitive information and regulated data and avoid compliance issues. If you could benefit from watermarking sensitive information in your Microsoft 365 collaboration applications or need a document management platform to securely share classified information, contact us today.

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