With remote work, multiple local facilities, vendors and customers around the country, file sharing has become a staple of the modern workforce. For many of us, sharing files has become a fairly standard activity in our daily life. Unfortunately, when behaviors become standard, it also means we sometimes stop considering the safety and security of the steps we’re taking.
Without utilizing some kind of security mechanism, you have to just hope no one else opens it. Hope isn’t enough when it comes to secure file sharing for businesses.
File sharing security has become a major concern for companies who need to put strategies in place to help protect and secure documents and files from being intercepted or read. Considering the increase in remote work and worker mobility, being sure those who should have access to shared files can access their documents, and do so securely, has made this a top priority for so many businesses today.
- What is Secure File Sharing?
- 5 Types of File Sharing
- Benefits & Risks of File Sharing
- 8 Tips to Secure File Sharing for Businesses
- 6 File Sharing Options
- Data Governance Best Practices
What is Secure File Sharing?
Simply put, file sharing involves an individual or organization providing electronic file or document access to another individual or organization. It may also include one or more files, stored in the cloud, being sent or becoming accessible on another device, be that another computer or a drive for storage or transfer. Depending on the method of transmission, there may be circumstances under which you initiate the transfer but need to wait for another user to accept the file.
If we break down file sharing a bit further, particularly through the lens of security, you can send a file securely, or there are circumstances under which you might send a file with minimal security, such as via email. When sending files securely, you transmit the file, but do so with measures in place to ensure the privacy or integrity of the file utilizing encryption, a protected mode, or an application or service that offers security. Additionally, secure file sharing provides tracking and accountability that can provide industry specific legal compliance.
For many businesses, the security element is paramount as not only is the integrity of the data important, but the overall security of the organization is as well, and while file sharing has its benefits, it can be a risky activity.
5 Types of File Sharing
We’ve already mentioned a few of the methods here, but there are, essentially, 5 methods for sharing files.
1. Peer-to-Peer (P2P)
This type of transfer was mentioned above and is best for sharing among a group of users. It eliminates the need for a centralized server storing the files and allows peers to send files directly to other peers over their own networks. Examples include BitTorrent, Limewire, and another “ancient” throwback, Napster.
Perhaps the oldest method of file transfer available is the email attachment. Using your email service (Gmail, Outlook, etc.), you simply attach a file to the email and click send. That said, you are likely already aware that this method is best for smaller files as even larger images likely won’t go through.
3. Secure File Transfer Platforms/Solutions
Secure file transform platforms provide a 3rd party software solution to assist in secure file transfers. With robust features, they often offer more than other file sharing solutions in terms of transparency, control, access, and security.
4. File-Transfer-Protocol (FTP)
An early file transfer method that still gets plenty of play because of its reliability and efficiency. Typically there’s an application, though you can use the command prompt, that provides a graphical user interface (GUI) enabling you to send the file by simply identifying the file and providing the IP/domain where it’s to be sent.
5. The Cloud
The newest “kid” on the block, cloud servers act as a central repository, accessible from any computer via the internet. You simply drop your file on the server and other users needing access can go in and retrieve it. It’s fairly fast and reliable, so much so that many users rely on it as a backup storage system. If you’ve used DropBox or iCloud, you’re using this method of file transfer.
Benefits and Risks of File Sharing
As with any technology in use today, there are benefits and risks to sharing files. A goal of your organization’s data security strategy should include a thorough understanding and analysis of file sharing as a necessary business practice.
Benefits of File Sharing
1.Mobility and Agility
Particularly over the last year, but increasingly so, workers are on the move or working remotely. Remote file sharing enables them to do so, while still keeping your team connected and aligned. File sharing enables easy and convenient collaboration among these employees regardless of their physical location.
File sharing also enables working with clients or vendors who may not be local or who may require time-sensitive communications. With online file sharing, in most cases, a file arrives almost immediately. Whether your team needs to share files with a client, or someone within your organization, they can do so easily, from anywhere.
2. Data Security and Recovery
When strict data security governance policies are in place, file sharing can be a secure method of sharing data and documents including, but not limited to, who has access. As a result, your files are less likely to be tampered with and, with tracking features, it’s easy to see who viewed or made changes to a document. However, your organization is only as strong as these security policies, their enforcement, and the security tools or applications you use to enable them.
Similarly, documents stored via a file sharing infrastructure decreases the likelihood of loss as many use it as a way to backup important documents. In fact, nearly 64% of documents stored in a system like this are never shared with anyone suggesting that many are using it for that exact purpose.
Risks of File Sharing
1.Sharing More Than the File
One of the biggest risks associated with remote file sharing is the potential to share more than the intended file. Unfortunately, as the recipient of a file, you have very little control over the measures another individual uses to protect their computer or files from viruses or malware. In transmitting the file, they may also transmit something that can put your computer out of commission or be even more malicious.
2. Interception of Personal Data
Some file sharing methods, especially Peer-to-Peer (P2P) applications may expose your files or your data to individuals who were not intended to see that information. This may be due to poor security measures or simply sending it to the wrong individual, but either way, this mistake can be costly, depending on the data shared.
In fact, your average organization shares files with over 800 different domains creating a lot of touch points, and a lot of opportunity for malicious actors to gain access to your files. For this reason, file sharing can open your business up to a variety of methods used in data breaches that expose your business, your customers, and your intellectual property to significant losses.
3. Bandwidth Usage
In the past, computer networks weren’t capable of handling any large files. While many of these files can now be transmitted, it still may create a bottleneck slowing down your computer or network considerably as you try to transmit or receive a large file or group of files. Even a quick Google search will show that this is an ongoing issue and impacts not just the user, but your entire network. Those network slow downs impact efficiency and productivity.
4.Other Security Risks
Some P2P file sharing programs ask you to open up specific ports or disable firewalls in order to facilitate the transfer. The trouble is, once you open that door, you don’t know who else is coming in, and it may create additional access points and vulnerabilities. Specifically, P2P file sharing creates a variety of security risks that open you up to a multitude of attacks from malware and DDoS to phishing attacks, viruses, and worms.
In addition to the inherent risks of P2P file sharing, there are risks involved with any file sharing when individuals fail to adhere to protocols set forth in data security governance policies. In fact, failure to create and follow data security guidelines may have a lasting impact on your business.
8 Tips to Secure File Sharing for Businesses
It’s no secret that in the course of daily business, you’ll likely need-- and have been-- sharing files across your organization, with customers and clients, and likely with vendors you do business with as well. Further, given the circumstances of a global pandemic and a growing remote workforce, the need to file share is only likely to grow. Are you choosing the best secure file sharing as part of your remote work solutions? Is your business file sharing ensuring security, for files that need it, and in a way that also ensures both speed and efficiency?
- Set strict data governance policies across your organization for remote file sharing. This means everyone in every segment of your business is utilizing the same security measures and the same methods to share files, internally and externally, thereby mitigating risks. These protocols should be led by your security, IT team along with corporate compliance to ensure best practices. Finally, be sure that the protocols are followed, regardless of whether an employee is on-premises or working remotely.
- Train your employees. Human error is responsible for a majority of data breaches which can be quite costly for businesses and so one of the best ways to prevent this during a file transfer is to review the protocol mentioned above and educate your employees on its necessity. Additionally, they need to understand what data and files can and cannot be shared, again internally and externally, and the transmission protocols acceptable for those files.
- When choosing a file sharing method, make sure it’s secure. If you choose an online file sharing platform, investigate its security levels and features (and use them). While some cloud options can offer robust security options, you want to make sure that’s available to you. You’ll also want to choose something that’s got a reliable backup system to protect your files from damage or loss as well.
- Utilize permissions. As an added layer of security, you can and should limit access to files or folders based on who needs access, and then use security mechanisms to ensure that only those that should access the files can. You can restrict this via the file or even a folder, and should incorporate identity access management protocols, especially for sensitive files and data.
- Scan incoming files. Scan for viruses or malware before downloading. One file with one virus has the potential to take down your entire network, proliferating before it’s even been detected. Not only does that have the potential to bring your business to a halt while your IT team “cleans” your network, but you’ve already potentially sent that on to customers, clients, vendors, and anyone you send data to, jeopardizing everyone.
- Utilize available security features. Depending on the platform you choose, in addition to permissions, you may be able to require a password or two-factor authentication or multi-factor authentication for access.
Further, spend time investigating advanced security access technologies including biometric authentication, screen privacy capabilities, comprehensive access controls (who, when, where, and for how long). When handling sensitive or private data, use the security layers that provide the best security possible.
- Test your system or platform. Any system or platform for file sharing is only as good as its performance. The goal of secure file sharing across an organization is to create smooth, fast, and efficient workflows. If the system you’re using is slowing folks down (download or upload speeds), doesn’t afford for the security layers you need, doesn’t offer tracking features you’d like, or has costs associated with scaling storage or file sizes, then it might be worth exploring your other options.
- Check your files. Periodically, you should review file activity. See who’s been in the file, who has edited it, who has shared or downloaded it, and any other potential activities. This may enable you to proactively catch an access issue or a security problem before it grows.
6 Best File Sharing Options
With so many workers still at home or remote, the ability to share files and communicate effectively is crucial in keeping work flowing smoothly. You, and your team, need to know that all files are accessible to the necessary stakeholders for collaboration and alignment. Further, you need to know that services are reliable, files are encrypted (all of the services below offer that), while keeping usability is at the forefront.
There are a lot of remote file sharing options out there, each with its strengths and some limitations, but the key is really finding the one, or combination of solutions, that works for your organizational needs.
This is a great option for individuals or organizations that don’t need too many bells and whistles. It offers syncing and desktop or mobile options so if those are priorities, those are strengths for this service. Further, because this service was an early option for individual users, many already have it which means they’re familiar with the platform. Additionally, files are encrypted, so there’s a base level of security. However, storage space is limited (2GB) for an individual user and collaboration options are a bit clunky making it hard to work in that fashion. Another big concern with Dropbox is that it’s encryption method isn’t zero-knowledge meaning they retain the right to access your information. For those worried about intellectual property, proprietary or confidential information, this may be a security concern.
2. Google Drive
For organizations using the Google Suite of products, this seems like a fairly easy and straightforward option. Google Docs was one of the first services to really offer robust collaborative workspaces with cloud storage (Google Drive). While one of the major issues is that the service requires a Gmail account to collaborate, and sometimes sharing and access can be tricky, it certainly saves local storage space for smaller organizations. However, Google’s relative size and position in the tech market make it a lucrative target for hackers and other bad actors, so familiarize yourself with their security features before you determine whether that’s a good fit for your needs.
3. iCloud Drive
Anyone using an iOS device is likely already familiar with the iCloud. For many individuals, it was the first introduction to cloud storage and backup for phones. For that reason, it’s a great option for organizations or individuals who rely heavily upon Apple products at home and in office. However, because it’s an Apple product, it’s got limited functionality with windows. Further, it offers limited storage space without paying extra (5GB which is still better than Dropbox), and there’s limited support for businesses. As with any of the bigger cloud storage options hosted by the tech giants, there are concerns about the size of the target on their networks. Further, the iCloud network may include some backup issues, especially if your workplace has a bring your own device (BYOD) policy-- a policy which is laden with its own security issues.
In the battle of the tech giants, it’s obvious Microsoft has to have an option as well and that’s OneDrive. As a key component of the Microsoft Office Suite, OneDrive is great for organizations utilizing Windows software (including Outlook) and PCs, but, as you can imagine, there’s very little support for Apple products. Further, as OneDrive has been noted as having issues with speed for both uploads and downloads which may create bottlenecks or issues on collaborative work. As with the other major cloud services as well, there are security concerns, but OneDrive may also have compliance issues that impact your specific industry.
An alternative to the “big guys,” OneHub offers all their functionality (collaboration, shared files, access controls, and activity tracking) without long-term contracts and a 14-free trial. Users report some file management and access issues for collaboration as well as latency issues. Further, as of April of 2020, there were concerns about data security issues related to the leaking of credentials as well (as is a concern among all the major players).
6. Smart Eye Technology
While all of the cloud services listed do well by making collaboration in the cloud a standard business practice, if you’re working with highly confidential and sensitive files, not any file sharing service will suffice. The most advanced privacy, confidentiality and secure file sharing platform is offered by Smart Eye Technology.
Smart Eye uses both continuous and multi-factor biometric authentications to ensure only intended file recipients can access and view shared files. Their platform helps you maintain control over files even after they have been shared by setting usage restrictions such as access time limits; preventing further sharing and downloading; and providing real-time activity monitoring. It also gives you the ability to terminate access to any file shared immediately, even after the file has been opened, with just one click.
Utilizing an unprecedented combination of security features, Smart Eye Technology puts over secure file sharing and continuous privacy at your fingertips. This is the newest offering so usage to date is not as prevalent as the other options.
Data Security Governance Best Practices
Your first line of defense, in all things security, is establishing clear guidelines and rules for your entire team, ensuring they are all educated on these policies, and there is enforcement. While there has been growth and improvement in data security, it’s best to ensure your organization is engaging the best practices to ensure your data security.
1. Assess Your Organizational Needs
Before setting any policies, you must fully assess, with a holistic view, the data/document security needs of your organization. Consider what documents need to be protected; what activities put those files at risk; what policies, tools, or applications can protect them; and what teams will be responsible for ensuring the security protocols and policies are enforced and applications updated and/or patched as needed?
2. Train Your Team
Your data security governance policies are only as valuable as your training on these policies. Often lapses occur when team members fail to understand policies and procedures, but also the vulnerabilities and risks that make them required. Further, technology changes quickly and so ensuring that training is ongoing is vital. It’s not just changing technology that necessitates the continued education, but training reinforces the value and importance of the subject. Similarly, training opportunities offer other advantages to business performance (beyond keeping data security policies in practice).
3. Maintain and Monitor
Much like training is ongoing, your data security policies should be maintained and monitored as part of a continuous process. Should you find vulnerabilities, it’s important to analyze what policies are working and which may need adjustment or reinforcement. And, should a breach happen, should there be a security issue, completing a “post-mortem” should involve not just where or how the breach occurred, but also how your team responded and include your plans for moving forward to rectify the root cause of the security incident.
4. Create a Team
As noted above, a holistic approach to your data security governance is vital. Different teams existing within silos can create issues in the understanding and application of protocols. More specifically, you run the risk of one team not utilizing or enforcing a policy as it doesn’t impact their work; however, these policies are most effective when instituted organization wide. Additionally, when compliance laws, technologies, or risks change, you want to ensure your entire team is updated. Each of these elements impacts team members from various segments of your business, so they all should be included and represented.
While your IT team likely has valuable input regarding security, the impacts of a data breach extend well beyond that one team. Including each of your departments on a policy and oversight committee not only gets all of their input, but helps ensure buy-in on the policies across your organization.
Be sure to consider the biometric security and authentication features of Smart Eye Technology, as well as the advanced encryption utilized during transit and at rest, as it offers the strongest and most robust solution.