Problem solve Get help with specific problems with your technologies, process and projects.

Securing Outlook 2003 messages with Information Rights Management

With Outlook 2003's Information Rights Management feature, you can prevent the content of an email message from being forwarded, printed, or copied and pasted into another document.

When sending an email message, it's a good idea to ask yourself what would happen if its contents were made public. If public disclosure would be harmless, go ahead and click Send. But if it would be embarrassing or bad for business, you might consider taking some protective measures.

One way you can protect yourself against unintentional disclosure of email content is by using Microsoft Outlook's Information Rights Management (IRM) feature.

With Information Rights Management, you can place various restrictions on an outbound message. For example, you can prevent the message from being forwarded or printed. You can even keep someone from copying and pasting the contents of the message into another document.

Before you get too excited though, Information Rights Management isn't foolproof. It only works if recipients are using Outlook 2003. If they happen to be using Outlook 2000, Eudora, Outlook Web Access, or anything other than Outlook 2003, they will not be able to open the email.

The good news is that Microsoft will likely build IRM into future versions of Outlook and Exchange Server. This means that, even though there are a limited number of recipients that recognize IRM permissions today, that number will increase over time as more people upgrade to newer versions of Microsoft Office.

In the meantime, there is an IRM add-on for Internet Explorer that allows recipients who do not have Outlook 2003 to view IRM-protected documents.

Sending a message using Information Rights Management

  1. Compose your message in Outlook 2003 and then select File -> Permissions.
  2. From here, choose either the Do Not Forward option or the Restrict Permission As option, which offers a little more flexibility.
  3. The first time you use IRM, you'll see a message asking if you want to install the IRM software. Click Yes and Outlook will attempt to download the necessary software from the Microsoft Web site.
  4. Choose the option to Run (rather than Save) the file and the download will start.
  5. When the 2.29 MB download completes, you will see another message asking you to confirm that you want to run the software. Click the Run button and the Setup wizard will begin. The wizard itself is simple. It basically just asks you to accept the end user license agreement.
  6. When the Setup wizard completes, go back to the message you want to send and select the permission you want to apply to the e-mail once again.
  7. You will now see a message stating that you need to use an IRM server to validate the permissions. The message goes on to say that Microsoft has a free trial IRM server you can use. Although the message refers to this as a free trial service, Microsoft's IRM server service has evolved into more of a permanent solution.

  8. Select the option to sign up for the free service. You will be asked if you have a .NET Passport. Click Yes (assuming that you have a .NET Passport) and you'll be prompted to sign in with your Passport.
  9. Now enter your e-mail address. This is not the e-mail address that Outlook is configured to use, but rather the e-mail address linked to your Passport. In my case, I had to enter my Hotmail address.
  10. Now you will be asked if you want to be issued a standard certificate or a temporary certificate. Assuming that you are using your own computer, choose the standard certificate option and click Next, followed by Finish.
  11. After a brief delay, you will be asked which account you want to use to send and receive restricted content. There should only be one account on the list. Select that account, click the Always Use This Account checkbox and then OK.

You will now be able to send the restricted message.

About the author: Brien M. Posey, MCSE, is a Microsoft Most Valuable Professional for his work with Windows 2000 Server and IIS. Brien has served as CIO for a nationwide chain of hospitals and was once in charge of IT security for Fort Knox. As a freelance technical writer he has written for Microsoft, TechTarget, CNET, ZDNet, MSD2D, Relevant Technologies and other technology companies. You can visit Brien's personal Web site at


When I click on File in a new message in Outlook 2003, there is no Permissions option. Please advise. Thanks.
—Edwin T.


It sounds like the underlying service is missing. You can get Microsoft's Rights Management Services here.
—Brien Posey, tip author


Does the recipient need to have Information Rights Management (IRM) installed just to view a message sent with restricted permissions? Is there an additional Windows server-side component that needs to be running?

In testing IRM out, I set it up on my Outlook 2003 client using the 10 steps provided in the article.

The recipient of the test message was unable to simply view the message. He got prompted to install IRM on his PC, and even after doing so, was not able to open the message.

Any feedback would be appreciated.
—Dustin F.


Yes, the recipient does need to have IRM running. If IRM is not running, the recipient will be prompted to install it and should then be able to view the messages.
—Brien Posey, tip author

Do you have comments on this tip? Let us know.

Related information from

  • Tip: Using Information Rights Management in Microsoft Outlook
  • Reference Center: Microsoft Outlook tips and resources

  • Dig Deeper on Outlook management

    Start the conversation

    Send me notifications when other members comment.

    Please create a username to comment.