When it comes to document sharing, it’s easy to take the path most traveled. However, with the rise in sophisticated attacks against organizations, following this route can come with serious pitfalls. Lax document security can lead to leaks. Provide information for targeted phishing attacks, and seriously harm the compliance of your company. So what are the ways to share documents securely?
what options are there for secure document sharing today, and which is best for your use case? We’ll explore that today – starting with encryption.
Encrypting sensitive documents
Encryption is one of the oldest and most important methods of protecting data. Though encryption algorithms have improved significantly over the years, their use case is the same – protecting information in transit and at rest.
Modern encryption standards do an excellent job at this. A 256-bit AES key, for example, would take billions of years to crack with current technology. However, users must also be aware that encryption only does what it says on the tin. Assuming keys are not shared or stolen, encryption will ensure only the recipient can open a file.
Once the user opens that file, though, the protection stops. They can send the decrypted document to anybody they like, copy the decrypted contents elsewhere, or modify it as they see fit. If your file contains confidential information or copywritten material, then, encryption should be just one piece of the puzzle.
Secure online document storage
Secure online storage is a popular solution to fill in the gaps after decryption, whether it be via a cloud provider or collaboration service. By pairing strong encryption with login-based authentication and editing permissions. Such platforms can make external document sharing much safer while maintaining convenience.
This solution isn’t without flaws, however. For starters, online storage naturally requires a stable internet connection. For office-dwellers in developed areas, this may be seen as a given. However, for employees who work from home, travel frequently, or live in a less developed country, this can prove frustrating.
Then there’s the question of where the data is stored. For online storage to work, documents must be stored on a remote server. Unless you self-host (which comes with its own challenges) that server will not be under your control. You can’t independently vet its security or make sure it’s always accessible.
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Other security drawbacks come in the form of limited prevention of document sharing. These days, many cloud storage and collaboration providers do implement granular permissions systems, but most still allow users to access files via the browser. This means that they can’ tsp users from simply screenshotting a document or printing it to a PDF and sharing.
Login credentials, too, can be shared or extracted, particularly if security mechanisms such as conditional access and multi-factor authentication aren’t in place. For some providers, you may have to pay extra for this functionality, which leads us to the final drawback – price. Secure online storage is typically sold on a per-user basis. For large organizations, this can quickly lead to a large and somewhat unpredictable price tag, especially when factoring in the additional cost of storage upgrades over time as employees eat into their space budget.
A more secure alternative to online document storage is a good document DRM solution. Documents can be encrypted in transit and rest, yet integrate additional modification, copying, screenshot, and printing controls. Through licensing controls, they’re also able to limit document viewing to specific users on defined IP addresses, locations, and devices.
Most DRM systems additionally provide options for document expiry and revoking, tracking and logging, and dynamic watermarks that identify the user. Importantly, they can do so without needing to store documents on a remote server.
Good providers allow for a choice between on-premises or cloud hosting and offer several offline use options. One of the most popular options is for document validity to be checked only when an internet connection is available. Revoking access when the user next connects to the internet. Documents can also be set to expire if users don’t connect to the internet within a certain timeframe
That’s not to say DRM is perfect, though – for one, it doesn’t stop a user from handing someone else their device or taking a picture of their screen with an external camera. Granted, this is mitigated using dynamics watermarks, but that won’t stop everyone. However, DRM solutions are clearly a security improvement over secure online storage and provide the best protection for secure document sharing available today. It’s one of the best ways to share documents securely.
So, with the different options summarized, you may be wondering which is the best way to securely share documents. As with most software, the answer is it depends. If you have 100% trust in the recipient, encryption can be a good, free way to add additional security to your documents.
Cloud storage takes things a bit further, offering additional permissions with very high convenience, but at the cost of high fees and mediocre copy protection. It can be a worthwhile investment if you only have a few documents and users to manage, don’t have high-security requirements, and have full trust in your provider.
DRM solutions provide the best copy protection and combine with encryption to keep documents secure in transit and at rest. This can be overkill for some however and may come with reduced convenience if you don’t invest the time into finding a good DRM protection solution.