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Best Practices for External File Sharing With Your Clients 10 January, 2022   

Over the years, businesses have had to use more secure methods to transfer client data across computers. Before smartphones were standard, in-office servers were the safest option available, and for most purposes, they still are unless you plan to staff remote employees. 

Remote work is becoming the norm. A band-aid solution for your server’s security won’t cut it if you want to protect your client’s data from malicious actors. With work and personal lives becoming increasingly blurred, employees may use free services to exchange valuable info.

With that said, your external file-sharing practices must be simple, legally compliant, cost-effective, 100% mobile, and backed by an Internet best practices policy at all times.

File-Sharing Definition

Today’s computers can store all sorts of files, including songs, videos, applications, and documents. When you move one of your files to another device or remote file server, you’re participating in file sharing. The recipient can manually or automatically accept the transfer. 

Positives of File Sharing

File sharing allows you to transfer large files over the Internet, making it easier for international employees to collaborate. When using a cloud server, you eliminate the need to maintain a central server, or you’ll reduce the labor of an on-premise server with a hybrid model. 

Negatives of File Sharing

Unfortunately, file sharing doesn’t come without its problems. Many organizations will prevent the move to a remote server option because the bandwidth required can be costly. Files are also hard to trace and keep secure once they’re shared publicly or remotely.

File-Sharing Statistics

Finance Online, a website that reviews business data, shared multiple studies regarding document management and file sharing. Several of their findings are worrying for businesses:

  • 95% of business information documentation is still paper-based.

  • Workers spend 50% of their time creating and preparing documents.

  • 86% of employees can’t find documents when they need to.

  • 83% of employees have to recreate documents they can’t find.

  • Over half of businesses deny the use of cell phones for file-sharing purposes.

  • 74% of employees can’t electronically sign with their phones.

  • 77% of business owners want to access files remotely.

  • 88% consider compliance as a significant obstacle for cloud adoption.

  • 70% of organizations that host on a public cloud have a security incident.

  • 66% of organizations leave backdoors, which is typically why a breach occurred.

  • 75% of attacks exploited misconfigurations, and 20% used stolen credentials.

To summarize the study, many organizations won’t let their employees use their mobile devices to sign, share, or locate documents, even though productivity suffers greatly from this practice.

Since organizations don’t have a location on their company computer to reuse templates, employees often have to recreate their own documents, impacting productivity. A lack of document consistency may also lead to compliance issues or poorly drafted contracts.

Businesses still use paper-based documentation when they don’t have to, costing the company thousands of dollars per year.

Organizations use paper-based documents because they don’t trust file sharing, but its convenience causes employees to share files over the Internet anyway. Without a way to track data, employers won’t know who shared these files, making data breaches more likely to occur.

While employers want to blame employees, the employer’s lack of tech knowledge often lands their organization in hot water. Most breaches are preventable through best practices.

How to Select the Best File Sharing Option

Before getting to best practices, you have to determine which secure file sharing system you want to implement in your business. Four solutions are deemed safer than email:

  • Virtual Data Rooms (VDRs): Virtual data rooms are used by companies to facilitate financial transitions, like fundraising rounds and M & A activity. While expensive, they are the most secure transfer method and offer the most gradual access control.

  • Peer-to-Peer (P2P) Networks: P2P networks use software to communicate directly without hosting files on a central server. P2P is perfect for companies who want to transfer files between small groups that reside on their own virtual network.

  • Cloud Storage Solutions: Cloud storage solutions are usually purchased from a third-party company that handles the company’s maintenance and security. While they’re cost-effective, they often have limited features and rank low on safety.

  • File Transfer Protocol (FTP): A common but incredibly secure file sharing option, FTP allows businesses to share large files to and from the FTP interface. File receivers must enter a password to take out and/or access these files from the server site.

When choosing between your options, weigh the pros and cons of each. Pay attention to the solution's price, security features, compatibility with other software, and limitations.

Organization-Backed Best Practices for Secure File Sharing

As stated, most file-based security issues are solvable on the employer's end. If you want to keep your files secure on a remote network, we recommend adding the following practices.

Add or Check For Technical Security in Your Systems

Technical security refers to security options built within the software or service’s coding and/or software. Technical security has several components but always includes cyber security, cyber investigation, a security architecture, a security strategy, and authentication management.

Add or Check For Data Encryption Within Systems and Files

Data encryption renders data unreadable unless the user inputs a password (or another authentication method). If your systems are hacked, malicious actors still have to implement more information to take over your network or steal important user/client data.’

Implement Strong Passwords and 2-Factor Authentication 

For data encryption to work, users must create strong passwords and 2-factor authentication answers that are nearly impossible to hack. Ask employees to use different passwords for each file they use. Employees can use a password management system to keep track of their files.

Implement Permissions-Based User Roles

Unless system administrators decide who can and can’t access specific folders, the entire office will be able to see and transfer sensitive data. This could lead to a massive security breach in the future. It’s also important to establish who can download and print certain documents.

Enforce Watermarking and Retention Protocols

Applying a watermark to all documents helps admins know who accessed a document. Watermarking can also provide updates on document age. When flagged as “old,” a retention protocol can determine when you should delete these files when they’re no longer needed.

Enforce a Naming and Keyword Protocols

Productivity takes a nosedive when employees can’t look up documents easily. Employees may start to duplicate records, which causes issues with security, compliance, and costs. But employees can instantly locate files with an excellent naming convention and keyword protocol.

Create a File Sharing Policy for Internal Employees

Internal employees are less of a security risk because they must share files from the office computer. However, you still need to establish guidelines for internet usage, email safety, and social media. Discuss what they can and can’t share or download on each platform.

Create a File Sharing Policy for Remote Employees

While most sharing policies apply to remote workers, you need to include policies relating to secure Wi-Fi connections, device sharing, and personal computer safety. If employees can share on their devices, get your IT department to check for backdoors and firewalls.

Audit all Data Logs at All Times

While auditing is a best practice, it deserves its own category. A significant amount of data breaches occur from lack of employee knowledge, misuse, improperly used software. If you audit all user activity, including login times, you’ll have a birds-eye view of your systems.

For your data audits, be sure to include:

  • Files Accessed

  • Login dates and times

  • Actions taken

  • Any changes or edits

Audit logs play a vital role in increasing accountability within any external file sharing system, which offers you peace of mind. For example, if your system flags multiple failed login attempts, that could determine a potential security threat. You’ll also know where this threat came from.

If you're noticing multiple unknown security threats, you’ll need to upgrade your security system. 

For internal threats, further education, counseling for improved password management, or further consequences may be necessary for a determined malicious breach.

file sharing

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