11 Ways to Secure File Sharing (Infographic Included)
Table of contents
It’s an interconnected world, and file sharing has become a cornerstone of collaboration and productivity. Whether you're a business professional sharing confidential documents or an individual exchanging personal files, ensuring the security of your shared data is paramount. The potential risks of unauthorized access, data breaches, and compromised privacy loom large, emphasizing the need for robust security measures.
Risky file-sharing can result in tremendous damage especially for companies. According to a study, 67% of exiting employees admit to have taken company data from their previous employers to leverage a new job. This might result in reputational degrading, loss of money and intellectual property among many other things.
Fear not! In this blog post, we delve into effective ways to secure file sharing, empowering you with the knowledge to protect your digital assets. From encryption to access controls, we'll explore essential strategies and best practices that will bolster your file-sharing security posture.
So next time you share a business file with a co-worker, you might double-check its security. It's crucial to remember that prioritizing security over convenience can sometimes be a bitter pill to swallow. However, it's an essential principle to uphold.
What is secure file sharing?
Secure file-sharing refers to the process of exchanging files between individuals or organizations in a manner that ensures confidentiality, integrity, and privacy. It involves using methods and technologies that protect files from unauthorized access, interception, or tampering during transit or storage.
Secure file-sharing typically involves the use of encryption to safeguard the content of the files. Encryption transforms the files into unreadable formats that can only be deciphered with the appropriate encryption keys. This ensures that even if the files are intercepted or accessed by unauthorized parties, they remain protected and unintelligible.
In addition to encryption, secure file-sharing may involve authentication mechanisms to verify the identity of users accessing or sharing the files. Access controls, such as passwords or multi-factor authentication, are often implemented to ensure that only authorized individuals can access the shared files.
Furthermore, secure file-sharing solutions often include features like:
- Access expiration
- Permissions management
- Audit trails to maintain control over file access
- Track any actions performed on the files.
These measures contribute to maintaining the confidentiality, integrity, and privacy of shared files, even when they are stored or transferred across networks or cloud platforms.
Suggested reading: User Provisioning Best Practices
Types of file sharing
There are several types of file-sharing methods commonly used today. Some of them include the following with extra information on how secure they potentially are. We need to mention here that security risks related to file sharing are not limited to these. Therefore, it’s essential to keep the best practices to secure file sharing in mind whether your organization shares files in these methods or not.
Email attachments are a commonly used method for file sharing, but they may not be the most secure option. The security of email attachments relies on the email service provider's encryption protocols and the recipient's email security measures. However, email attachments can be vulnerable to interception, malware attachments, and unauthorized access if proper security measures are not in place.
File Transfer Protocol (FTP)
FTP is a widely used method for file sharing but lacks inherent encryption, making it less secure. Files transferred via FTP can be intercepted, exposing their contents to potential threats. However, FTP can be made more secure by implementing secure variants like FTPS (FTP over SSL/TLS) or using VPNs (Virtual Private Networks) for secure connections.
Cloud Storage Services
Cloud storage services offer convenient file sharing, collaboration, and various security features. While they provide encryption during transit and at rest, the level of security may vary among different providers. It's crucial to choose reputable cloud storage services that prioritize security, offer robust encryption, and provide user-access controls to protect shared files from unauthorized access.
Peer-to-Peer (P2P) File Sharing
P2P file sharing can pose security risks, particularly when sharing copyrighted material or downloading files from untrusted sources. Malicious files and malware can be disguised as legitimate content, putting users at risk. It is important to exercise caution and use reliable P2P networks, and have updated security software to mitigate potential threats.
Secure File Transfer Protocols
Secure file transfer protocols like SFTP and SCP provide strong encryption and secure file transfers over SSH connections. These protocols offer a higher level of security compared to regular FTP. SFTP and SCP ensure that files are protected during transit and prevent unauthorized access or eavesdropping.
Enterprise-Grade File Sharing Solutions
Enterprise file-sharing solutions prioritize security, often offering advanced encryption, access controls, auditing, and data loss prevention mechanisms. These solutions are designed to meet stringent security requirements, making them suitable for sharing sensitive corporate data within organizations. However, proper configuration and adherence to security best practices are crucial to ensure maximum security.
Why is secure file sharing important?
Secure file-sharing is crucial for organizations and individuals alike when it comes to transferring files securely, sharing documents in a protected manner, and ensuring that sensitive information is transmitted without the risk of unauthorized access. Here are several reasons highlighting the importance of secure file-sharing:
Protection of Sensitive Information
Secure file-sharing methods are vital for safeguarding confidential data throughout the transfer process. By using encryption and secure protocols, sensitive information can be shared without the risk of interception or unauthorized access. For instance, businesses can securely send files containing proprietary information, financial records, or customer data to trusted recipients.
Compliance with Regulations and Standards
Secure file-sharing helps organizations comply with industry regulations and standards governing data protection and privacy. By adopting secure methods, businesses can meet compliance requirements such as GDPR, HIPAA, or PCI DSS, which mandate secure handling and sharing of sensitive information. This ensures that customer data and personally identifiable information (PII) are handled responsibly and in accordance with legal requirements.
Prevention of Data Breaches and Unauthorized Access
Secure file-sharing mitigates the risks associated with data breaches and unauthorized access to confidential files. Encryption and access controls ensure that only authorized recipients can access shared files, reducing the possibility of data falling into the wrong hands. Businesses can avoid potential reputational damage and legal liabilities by securely transferring files containing sensitive business strategies, intellectual property, or trade secrets.
Maintaining Data Integrity
Secure file-sharing methods preserve the integrity of shared documents, preventing unauthorized modifications or tampering. By utilizing encrypted file sharing and digital signatures, businesses can ensure that shared files remain unaltered and authentic. This is particularly crucial when sharing contracts, legal agreements, or important financial documents, where maintaining the accuracy and integrity of the information is paramount.
11 best practices to secure file sharing
1. Utilize encrypted file transfer methods
To secure file sharing, you can use encrypted file transfer methods like Secure File Transfer Protocol (SFTP), HTTPS, or encrypted cloud storage platforms to protect the confidentiality of your files. For example, employ SFTP when sharing financial reports with your accountant or utilize an end-to-end encrypted cloud service for sensitive client documents.
2. Implement password protection
Protect your files with strong passwords before sharing them. Choose unique, complex passwords and share them separately from the file itself. Encourage recipients to use password managers to securely access the shared files. This helps prevent unauthorized access to your files, even if they are intercepted or inadvertently shared.
3. Employ end-to-end encryption
Consider using end-to-end encryption tools or services to secure your shared files. With end-to-end encryption, only the intended recipients can decrypt and access the files, as the encryption and decryption processes occur on their devices. This ensures that no one else, including the file-sharing service provider, can access the content.
4. Set sharing time limits
When sharing files, consider setting time limits for file access or expiration. This ensures that the shared files are only accessible for a specific duration or until a particular deadline. By limiting the availability of shared files, you reduce the risk of prolonged exposure and potential unauthorized access.
5. Use secure file-sharing services
Opt for reputable and secure file-sharing services that prioritize data security. Platforms such as Dropbox Business, Box, or Google Drive for Work offer advanced security features, including end-to-end encryption, access controls, and audit logs. These services provide secure collaboration environments for sharing files within your organization or with external parties.
6. Verify recipient identities
Before sharing sensitive files, verify the identities of the intended recipients. Double-check email addresses or user accounts to ensure you are sending files to the correct individuals. This helps prevent accidental sharing with unauthorized or malicious recipients.
7. Regularly update software and security patches
Keep your file-sharing software, operating systems, and security applications up to date. Regularly install software updates and security patches to address known vulnerabilities and reduce the risk of exploitation. This helps maintain the overall security of your file-sharing environment.
8. Educate users about safe file-sharing practices
Educate users within your organization about safe file-sharing practices. Teach them the importance of secure passwords, recognizing phishing attempts, and following secure file-sharing protocols. Promote awareness of potential risks and provide guidance on best practices to minimize security incidents.
9. Scan files for malware
Before sharing files, scan them for malware using reliable antivirus software. Malicious files can compromise the security of your systems and the recipients' devices. Regularly update and run antivirus scans to detect and eliminate potential threats before sharing files.
10. Enable two-factor authentication (2FA)
Enable two-factor authentication (2FA) for your file-sharing accounts whenever possible. 2FA adds an extra layer of security by requiring an additional verification step, such as a temporary code sent to a mobile device, in addition to the password. This reduces the risk of unauthorized access, even if passwords are compromised.
11. Monitor Google Drive security
Google Drive has become a popular platform for file sharing and collaboration. However, ensuring Google Drive security requires proactive monitoring and measures.
Resmo connects with your Google Drive to help you track workspace-wide documents and detect if they are externally public, shared, or publicly accessible for more than 30 days which is considered risky. You can connect Resmo with your SaaS applications to monitor their security and user activity as well, including Slack and Microsoft Teams.
Common file sharing security risks in cybersecurity
54% of employees today use their personal email to share business documents and data. - Verizon
Unauthorized access and data breaches
One of the primary risks of file sharing is the potential for unauthorized individuals to gain access to shared files. This can lead to data breaches and privacy violations, exposing sensitive information to unintended recipients. To mitigate this risk, it's crucial to implement robust access controls, strong authentication mechanisms, and encryption to ensure that only authorized individuals can access shared files.
Shared files can serve as a means to spread malware, posing a significant threat to cybersecurity. Malicious files can be disguised as legitimate documents and, when downloaded or executed, compromise systems, lead to data loss, and potentially disrupt networks. Employing up-to-date antivirus software, scanning shared files for malware, and promoting user awareness about safe file-handling practices are essential to prevent malware infections.
Data leakage and exposure
Inadequate security measures in file sharing can result in accidental or intentional disclosure of sensitive information to unauthorized parties. This exposes organizations to data leakage, regulatory non-compliance, and reputational damage. Implementing encryption, using secure file transfer protocols, and setting access controls based on the principle of least privilege help minimize the risk of data leakage and maintain data confidentiality.
Lack of file integrity
Files shared without proper security measures are vulnerable to unauthorized modifications or tampering, compromising their integrity and trustworthiness. Verifying file integrity through digital signatures, implementing file versioning, and using secure file transfer protocols with built-in integrity checks are essential to ensure that shared files remain unaltered and reliable.
Insider threats pose a significant risk in file sharing. Employees or insiders with malicious intent can abuse their file-sharing privileges to access, modify, or exfiltrate sensitive information. Organizations should implement access controls, monitor file-sharing activities, and promote a culture of security awareness and ethical behavior to mitigate the risk of insider threats.
Lack of compliance with regulations
Failure to comply with data protection and privacy regulations during file-sharing can have severe consequences for organizations. It is crucial to understand and adhere to relevant regulations such as GDPR, HIPAA, or industry-specific standards. Implementing proper security measures, obtaining necessary consent, and regularly reviewing and updating security practices are vital for compliance.
Insecure file-sharing practices
Using unencrypted protocols, weak passwords, or sharing files through untrusted platforms significantly increases the likelihood of security breaches and unauthorized access. Organizations should prioritize secure file transfer protocols, encourage the use of strong passwords, and ensure that file-sharing platforms have appropriate security measures in place.
Lack of user awareness and training
Insufficient user knowledge about secure file-sharing practices can unknowingly expose organizations to security risks. Promoting user awareness and providing regular training sessions on secure file sharing, recognizing phishing attempts, and following best practices can empower employees to make informed decisions and contribute to a secure file-sharing environment.
- Prioritize Security: When it comes to file sharing, always prioritize security over convenience. Implementing robust security measures may require additional effort, but it's crucial for safeguarding your sensitive data.
- Encryption is Key: Utilize encryption technologies to protect your shared files. Encryption ensures that even if unauthorized individuals gain access to the files, the data remains unintelligible and secure.
- Implement Access Controls: Set up access controls to restrict file access to authorized individuals only. Use strong passwords, multi-factor authentication, and permissions management to ensure that only the right people can view and modify shared files.
- Educate Users: Promote user awareness and provide training on secure file-sharing practices. Help users understand the risks, recognize phishing attempts, and follow best practices to minimize security incidents.