Two months ago, I reported on a preview I’d seen of WindTalker, describing it as a document-security product unlike anything I’d seen. This week, WindTalker makes its formal debut, launching as a cloud-based content-security platform with an initial focus on the legal sector.

Initially developed for the U.S. Department of Defense, WindTalker is unlike other encryption or redaction software in that it allows a user to protect a document in its native format and on a granular level, allowing or denying access to others according to rights-based permissions.

That means that you can protect any text or image within a document — paragraphs, lines or even just words — and set access for different roles and people to any of those individual protected pieces, without have to generate multiple documents for different types of users. Within the same document, you could, for example, give your co-counsel access to some parts and your outside expert access to other parts. The same document can be opened by different people, and each person will see only what they have access to.

Although protected content appears to be redacted to those who do not have access, it is actually encrypted. The encryption can be applied to both Microsoft Word and Adobe Acrobat documents, and it follows the documents, so that if one recipient forwards it, the permissions still apply. A single document can contain multiple sets of permissions.

The different protections you apply to a document appear as different colors based on your defined access roles.

Further, each separate protection of text within a single document is a separate encipherment. WindTalker says it uses military-grade encryption that is virtually impossible to decrypt. But even if someone were to decrypt a single instance of protection within a document, all the other instances would remain separately encrypted.

WindTalker works only on Windows-based computers using Windows 7 or higher. It requires users to download client software that interfaces with the WindTalker servers. Users must also install add-ins within Microsoft Word and Adobe Acrobat DC.

The company tells me that it plans to release native support for Macs in 2019. However, clients are already using WindTalker on Mac computers through the use of the separately purchased Parallels software.

A reader who does not have access cannot see the underlying text.

WindTalker can protect content either manually or automatically. To use it manually within Word, the user highlights the content to protect, selects a “role” from a dropdown menu in the WindTalker tab on the Office ribbon, and then clicks “Apply.”

You, your firm or your organization define the roles to be applied. A role might be “attorney-client privileged” or “human resources” or “medical.” You can create roles via a dashboard on the WindTalker website, where you can assign users to a role, assign a color to a role (for how protected text will appear in your document), and assign tags to roles.

WindTalker can also protect content using what it calls Scouts. Scouts will automatically protect specific types of information — Social Security numbers, credit card numbers, phone numbers and dates. To use this, you would first select the protection role you wish to apply, and then click the button for the particular type of Scout.

WindTalker also allows users to create custom Scouts to protect specific words, phrases or any regular expressions, or to create macros to apply protections based on certain conditions. In addition, Scouts can be set to automatically run based on triggers such as opening or closing a document. In this way, they can be used to enforce security policies against documents.

In order for someone else to be able to view the portions of the document to which they have access, they will have to be running the WindTalker client software. Someone who does not have access or who does not have the software will see PROTECTED in place of the protected text. WindTalker is enabling free guest licenses for third parties to view documents protected with its software.

It is always a drawback when a program requires others to have the same program in order to read a document. But the guest license is free and the software is quick to install.

Pricing and What’s Ahead

Last week, Doug Martinez, executive vice president of WindTalker, gave me a demonstration of the product and then provided me with a password to try it for myself.

Martinez said that in testing the product so far, it has proven to have found a “sweet spot” in litigation, and in particular in e-discovery to protect documents based on different roles.

Martinez points out that the user retains the ability to turn on, turn off and revise permissions for a document. Thus, when litigation ends, an attorney who shared documents with opposing counsel can revoke that access. Or if a judge wanted to do an in-chambers review of protected parts of a document, the attorney could turn on access for the judge.

And if the judge ordered changes in what was or was not redacted, those changes could easily be made by changing permissions, rather than have to go back to the original documents and perform the redaction over again.

The cost of the software is $40 a month per user. For enterprise clients, the company will scale the pricing. A free trial account is available through the website.

Coming later this year will be an add-on for Microsoft Excel and then early next year an add-on for Microsoft Outlook. The company also plans to offer a split-key option, where half the decryption key sits on its cloud and half on premises with the customer.

While WindTalker is focusing on the legal market initially, Martinez believes it will prove valuable across industries as a tool that can serve the dual roles of protecting security while promoting collaboration. “A tool such as this enables companies to start easily applying protection to documents while also relieving them of risk if they share those documents,” he says.

WindTalker appears to be a unique and practical variation on software for protecting the security of documents. I like that it makes it easy to protect documents on a granular level and to apply different sets of permissions within a single document. The Word add-on makes it easy to use and there is virtually no learning curve. For both author and reader, the overall experience seems preferable to plodding through redactions and multiple document versions.