July 14, 2023

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Why organizations need secure business file sharing

The promise of faster, “free” file sharing could pose a threat to compliance and data security. What's the smartest way for businesses to stay secure and efficient, while avoiding unsanctioned file sharing solutions?

Two people in suits look at a tablet computer in an office setting.

Digital file sharing solutions are mushrooming. But as information flows more freely and the lines between teams, departments and external organizations blur, protecting your data is more critical than ever.

Businesses need a file-sharing system in place to streamline processes and drive collaboration, yet unsecured solutions could introduce unnecessary risks even as promised “efficiencies” seem attainable.

This guide delves into how both file sharing security and efficient document management can be quickly and reliably achieved with a content services platform (CSP).

Read one to learn how to strike a balance between seamless information sharing and controlled, secure collaboration in the modern workplace.

What is file sharing?

File sharing is the process of exchanging digital content between two or more computers, devices or users.

The file sharing process involves distributing or providing access to various forms of digital content, such as computer programs, documents, multimedia (audio/video), graphics and other file formats over a computer network, such as corporate networks and the internet.

This can be done through different methods, such as peer-to-peer (P2P) file sharing, cloud-based file sharing and file transfer protocol (FTP).

File sharing can be utilized to deliver information to someone for them to read, such as PDFs and other documents involved in collaborative projects. File sharing solutions range from simple cloud-hosted document management software to CSPs that monitor documents throughout its lifecycle, from creation to destruction.

Why secure file sharing is vital for businesses

Improper, unapproved information sharing makes it easy for malicious actors to intercept and gain access to a business’ most important data.

This could take the form of trade secrets or sensitive customer information. This could lead businesses down the path of costly legal fees, damaged reputations and loss of market share.

Secure business file sharing is an increasing challenge for organizations in the world of growing workplace mobility and multidevice accessibility. The more businesses lean into digital transformation, the more the onus is on IT or information governance (IG) teams to figure out:

  • Are you tracking what files get shared with whom?
  • Do you know how your employees are sharing documents with external clients, vendors and customers?
  • Is everyone using a company-approved file sharing system?
  • Are managers notified if enterprise data is at risk?

For organizations that are scaling quickly in size, processes and systems, it is crucial to collectively govern how your employees exchange files internally and externally.

What are the risks of ad-hoc file sharing?

Ad-hoc processes are done informally and often on an impromptu basis. Translation: It’s work done without utilizing the sanctioned toolsets, systems or guidelines an organization has set for a specific task.

In practice, ad-hoc file sharing increases risks, such as:

  • Sharing confidential information to another recipient via email: If you send an email containing unencrypted plain-text data, anyone with access to the network infrastructure — including the Internet Service Provider (ISP) — can potentially view the contents of your e-mail.
  • Engaging with an unapproved, free FTP server to transfer files to another computer: Uploading a file over an FTP site means that it is technically “in the wild,” considering that FTP sites have very limited access control capabilities and provide broader permissions than to view, edit or share documents.
  • Storing information in USB sticks to transfer files in-between devices: An infected USB stick that connects with other devices across departments (either intentionally or unknowingly) could introduce malware that leads to data loss or unauthorized access to confidential information.

Users that are freely transferring or storing information using USB sticks may copy or exfiltrate sensitive data without proper authorization — inherently violating the company’s data protection guidelines.

Ungoverned file sharing is risky for a number of reasons. But here’s what damages could look like:

Corporate insider trading and regulatory noncompliance

Consider, for instance, the vulnerable period during which a business is preparing for its Initial Public Offering (IPO).

Confidential information such as revenue projections, sales figures and other nonpublic information could be generated and shared across the organization through personal cloud storage accounts, personal e-mail accounts and other unsanctioned file sharing methods — while everyone else in the organization is none the wiser.

If this is finally brought to light, all unauthorized file sharing practices will be found in violation of securities regulations, such as the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) rules, which require strict control over the dissemination of IPO-related information. This noncompliance can result in legal and financial consequences.

Theft of intellectual property

Unapproved file sharing can facilitate the unauthorized access and distribution of trade secrets. This takes the form of everything from proprietary technology to recipes, processes and designs.

On the chance someone from your organization is affiliated with competitor companies, it becomes easy to provide them with unauthorized access to valuable trade secrets and intellectual property files.

This may happen due to personal negligence or lack of awareness, but the fact is that it’s made possible by oversight and loosely implemented guidelines on sharing and storing crucial information.

The loss of Personally Identifiable Information (PII)

Ad-hoc file sharing often takes place through unsecured channels where encryption and access controls are lacking. Files stored on an employee’s personal hardware (USB sticks, employee laptops, etc.) are not secure either and could be compromised if their device is stolen, misplaced or even connected to unsecured networks that leave them open to self-propagating malware.

Data breaches could risk exposing information such as names, addresses, social security numbers, or financial information. Interceptors can use the exposed PII to commit fraudulent activities, such as financial transactions or identity theft.

Sharing PII without proper authorization and security measures can lead to violations of data protection regulations, such as the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) or the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA).

National security threats from leaking classified information

Consumer-grade applications prioritize ease of use and accessibility, but this can be at the expense of security measures. This lack of focus can create vulnerabilities that can be exploited to access the data of constituents, diplomatic communications and other forms of classified data.

Government agencies, for example, have a responsibility to protect national interests and comply with data sovereignty regulations. By using third-party consumer-grade applications or allowing employees to freely exchange files over email, there is a risk of data being stored in jurisdictions that may expose the data to foreign entities.

Key features of a content services platform for secure file sharing

According to the 2022 Cost of a Data Breach Report by IBM, the average total cost of a data breach was $4.35 million, with an average of 75% of breaches taking more than 200 days to identify and contain.

The risks are prevalent and costly. But that doesn’t mean your file sharing solution needs to be a painfully cumbersome experience for business users trying to get work done.

This is where an ironclad content services platform comes in. Here are four ways a CSP strikes a balance between secure file sharing and uninterrupted collaboration for your teams:

1. Modifiable permission controls

Challenge: Sensitive information should be privy only to those who need it. Yet, FTP sites operate on a simple password and username authentication model that grants users visibility to multiple files in a directory or folder structure.

How a CSP helps: The power of a content services platform for file sharing lies in granularity. Here, administrators can define granular access controls for various types of folders and documents. The designated administrator can assign different levels of permissions to individuals or groups, allowing specific control over who can view, edit or download specific files.

2. Comprehensive auditing and reporting

Challenge: If employees are uploading and sharing content and data without clear audit it can become difficult to trace user history if something goes wrong. This can lead to serious consequences if it leads to data breaches are non-compliance.

How a CSP helps: A content services platform gives administrators and management maximum oversight. Audit trails capture user actions and provide a detailed record of who accessed, modified or shared files, all while supporting compliance and regulatory requirements.

A lack of proper document version control throws another wrench into your efforts toward safe collaboration. For example, if your employees resort to external programs and file editors, administrators have limited visibility into the number of versions each document has, who has accessed the file last or even if someone has downloaded it on their own device.

> Read more | What is document version control and why do you need it?

3. Centralized, intuitive information management

Challenge: You’ve already deployed conventional ECM solutions to give employees some level of file sharing structure, yet they continue to shoot off e-mails containing sensitive attachments and use Google Drives connected to their personal e-mails to share files as quickly as possible. The common denominator is that all of them turn to unsanctioned but “faster” tools to overcome complex software that creates unnecessary friction in what is meant to be a straightforward process.

How a CSP helps: A CSP lets your team assign metadata, tags and keywords to files, making them easily searchable on a centralized repository. When your users don’t need to hunt for file access, there is a significantly less risk of someone else sharing documents across unapproved FTP sites or through e-mail attachments. File downloads and other user activities are tracked, and your team gets to work faster and with more efficiency — no longer having to jump through hoops to get their hands on vital information.

4. Files are synced and backed up

Challenge: Someone signs up for a free trial on an FTP site. These sites typically allocate a predetermined storage capacity to each user before it prompts them to cough up a monthly subscription fee. If your employee exceeds the storage limit (or the trial just ends), the FTP provider could lock access to that account and/or delete the stored documents if more time passes and no one pays up.

How a CSP helps: No one can share what they can’t find. Today’s convenience could negatively impact tomorrow’s business continuity if employees continue to share files across unsanctioned “freemium” FTP sites. Modern CSPs are capable of safeguarding data against accidental deletions or unexpected disasters. CSPs are also able to sync with various enterprise information and management systems to allow for automated, real-time backups, all while ensuring documents are kept and destroyed according to retention schedules.

Preventing information from falling into the wrong hands starts with preserving it. See how organizations that collect and store sensitive information leverage Governance Rules as a Service (GRaaS) and content services to manage data that is subject to regulatory compliance.

> Read more | Automating and streamlining information governance with Governance Rules as a Service (GRaaS)

Safeguarding data while ensuring peak collaboration

By 2023, 1.88 billion workers will be completely remote.

That’s why information sharing needs to happen even when your workforce is fragmented or operating in various settings.

Every user — from the those completing their work while on a job site or case to those traveling for business — must be able to send and receive documents securely, without resorting to last-ditch FTP sites or risky e-mails just because those are the last options left.

Whether it's through a dedicated mobile app for on-the-go access or the ability for staff to sync files to their desktops and reference them offline, your CSP solution needs to be completely mobile-capable to maintain collaboration regardless of location or connectivity status.

Here’s what mobile information sharing could look like:

  • Human resources (HR): Mobile file capture and sharing can play a vital role in training and development initiatives within the HR department. HR professionals can leverage mobile file sharing to capture and share feedback forms, training completion certificates, or assessments, ensuring seamless documentation and tracking of employee training progress.
  • Field service: On-site technicians can use mobile devices to capture images or videos of equipment issues, work completed or necessary repairs. These files can be instantly shared with supervisors, support teams or customers, enabling remote diagnosis, collaboration on solutions and timely decision-making without needing to be physically present in the office.
  • Accounts payable (AP): AP staff can use mobile devices to capture, store and share important vendor-related documents (think W-9 forms, contracts and vendor agreements). By having these documents readily accessible on mobile devices, your AP team gets to retrieve and share them (faster) with internal stakeholders, auditors or vendors as needed.

5 questions to ask when implementing content services for file sharing

The options can be overwhelming, but deciding on the right file sharing solution starts with looking deeper into the unique needs and processes of business users while building a bridge to connect that with crafting better experiences for the customer.

Here’s what to evaluate when implementing an enterprise-wide file sharing tool:

  • What are the options for advanced security and encryption? To get you started, narrow down on a CSP vendor that provides encryption tools and transport layer security (TLS) to ensure that documents are unusable if intercepted by an attacker or unauthorized individuals.
  • Can it be deployed in the cloud? Look for a cloud partner that allows the option to customize granular permission levels and one that works seamlessly on mobile devices to extend information sharing to users via mobile devices.
  • Will your file sharing process benefit from automation? Leveraging robotic process automation (RPA) in a CSP allows bots to perform validation and compliance checks on files before sharing them with unauthorized recipients. Of course, these same bots should be programmed to send automated notifications to stakeholders when files are shared, updated or accessed.
  • How flexible are accesses and permissions? Built-in features should include regulated password policies (timeout requirements, password complexity settings, etc.), customizable rights management and security keywords to control access based on company metadata.
  • How easy is it to use? Can your users share large files without complexity, minimizing the need for multiple interactions? When employees have a file sharing solution that meets these five key components, they won't have to resort to unapproved tools or workarounds. This will allow the organization to maintain greater control over what gets shared internally and externally.

Why end-to-end content management leads to secure file sharing

Nothing good comes out of side-lining the importance of secure information sharing.

At best, unapproved file sharing alternatives leave organizations in the dark about how their information is being viewed and shared.

At worst, it opens the floodgates to substantial threats to data integrity — either from external or internal actors.

Investing in the right CSP means you don’t leave your organization’s crucial data to chance.

The good news is that a cloud-capable content management solution already considers the ever-evolving, unique requirements that businesses need to in order to stay compliant and secure, while not aggravating employees with complex systems and more red tape.