How safe are your business documents? Tips for online security
How does your company store or send your key business documents?
Anything from project drawings to contracts to business plans are now, more often than not, created on a computer. What happens to them next can be key to managing them well and avoiding any sort of security breach.
Cloud software has become a popular option for creating and storing many of these documents. You might use a program that allows you to create and save documents, or you might for example have a PDF drawing that you store in Dropbox or another cloud storage software.
Sending documents is another task made easier online. You can share files from cloud storage, or you could email the document as an attachment to those who need it.
It all adds up to more convenience for your business, but how safe are those business documents? What should you know if you’re storing and sending them online?
Advantages of cloud storage
Do you remember the days of hammering away on your computer, working on an important document, only to have your hard work disappear when the computer crashed? This might still be happening if you’re using any kind of system where you’re saving to a hard drive rather than cloud storage.
The key difference is that while saving to a hard drive makes your documents available locally (on the computer hard drive on which they’re stored), cloud storage means your documents are stored on a remote server. This means that your documents can be accessed from any computer on which you can login to your cloud storage account.
This also protects your documents from unforeseen disaster. For example, what if the building where your computer or filing cabinets are stored catches fire? Cloud storage gives the peace of mind that key documents will still be available. Accessibility and recovery are two big advantages of the cloud.
Cloud storage can also save on cost, especially as compared to any in-house hosting system. It can also sync across multiple devices at once, ensuring that everyone is seeing the most current version. As a contractor who goes back and forth from job sites to the office, you may even find that cloud storage saves you some travel time. You don’t have to go back to fetch a document if you can pull it up on your phone or tablet.
Most cloud storage providers have robust security protocols, so this is another potential advantage. You won’t have documents taken from filing cabinets or accessed improperly.
File sharing has also been made more simple via online methods. There are all sorts of methods for giving access to people who need to see your documents. For example:
- PDF software can include features such as time limiting access or password protecting documents. Some now have cloud storage available so that you don’t have to attach the file to an email.
- You can grant access to documents from within your cloud storage or file sharing account by adding the recipient’s name or email address.
- You can email documents as attachments.
This all helps to make managing documents easier, but there is always risk whenever you share a document. It’s important to understand what those are, so that you know your options for mitigating those risks.
Risks of document storage and file sharing
Overall, the ability to store and share documents online has made managing them much more efficient, but there are still security risks to be aware of. Let’s look at a few of the most critical risks and how to mitigate them:
Document storage risks
The thing that you should primarily be concerned with when storing your documents online is that they are secure from unauthorised access. Most reputable cloud storage providers have strict protocols for security, although you will usually have to manage access yourself.
For example, let’s say you have a shared document storage software for which you give access to your employees. What happens when someone leaves? Given that cloud storage is accessible anywhere, it will be up to you to ensure that you’ve remembered to revoke access to your documents.
Along similar lines, you might have some documents that are restricted to certain personnel only. You will need to manage access to restricted files to ensure that you’re not giving blanket access to everyone. A common issue with cloud storage is people being able to see information that was not intended for them.
There’s some risk that documents could be hacked when stored on the cloud too. While cloud services tend to take this threat seriously, you are still taking your business documents outside of your own IT environment and under the care of a third-party. Always look for a provider that encrypts files during storage and sharing with a range of 128 to 256-bit encryption. This makes it very difficult for anyone to gain access through hacking.
Another risk to your document security comes from the devices used to access them. What happens if an employee leaves their iPad on the bus or loses their phone? There’s a chance that someone picking up the lost device could access any documents via its apps.
There are three strategies you can follow to mitigate the risk of lost devices. First, it should be a requirement that the device is locked and accessible only by password. You might also have a rule that work documents can only be accessed from company-issued devices – “BYOD” (Bring Your Own Device), opens up all sorts of security issues. It’s easier to manage and set policy for company-owned devices. Lastly, if a device does go missing, it is possible to remotely disable most of them. You can find instructions for your specific device by doing a Google search.
File sharing risks
The biggest risk when it comes to sharing your files is again, unauthorised access. The act of sharing can create vulnerabilities. For example, when you send or grant access to a file, you are relying on that person having good standards of security for their own passwords. If they don’t routinely lock devices, don’t use security software, or if they leave their email account open on their desktop, it is fairly easy for a third party to gain access to the file.
Second, you have to be able to trust that whoever you give access to will respect the security of the file. There is potential for them to deliberately show others, or even copy files and share them. This is not unique to online file storage – you run this same risk with any other type of file sharing. Some file sharing options allow you to see exactly who has accessed the file and what they have done with it. So for example, you can see if the file has been copied.
Overall, a loss of control over the data and what happens to it is the biggest risk of sharing files online. To mitigate this risk, we suggest only using reputable cloud software providers who have strong security protocols and regular updates to the system.
Working with cloud-based software, including storing and sharing of documents, is now commonplace and looks set to be the way of the future. It’s important to devise clear company policies now for how you will operate with any form of cloud software.
Look for providers that have strict security protocols and take those responsibilities seriously. As a cloud-based software, we at Countfire are very aware of this and keep security as a top priority.
It’s important that you’re able to protect the access to and integrity of your business documents. Consider the risks we have outlined and how you might mitigate these.
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