Although there is no doubt that data sharing is valuable in business, an important way to connect with partners and build up rapport with customers, it’s also a risky business for an organization if not protected. Usually, problems arise due to not understanding the dangers associated with file sharing resulting in intentionally or unintentionally flaunting company regulations.
Understanding the Dangers of File Sharing
The popularity of file sharing is easy to understand. We are all hardwired to be social mammals and passing along information, collaborating with others, and connecting with peers internally and business associates, partners and customers externally comes naturally to us. Culturally, sharing is considered a good thing, encouraged by parents, embraced by churches, and championed by schools. The fact that information is now often shared digitally is merely a variation on an inborn desire to connect with others and contribute value and meaning to their lives.
Thus, there is nothing wrong with file sharing per se and while it’s common to find file sharing applications in most SMBs, the problem arises when lax security measures let intruders slip into a company’s network, either in the form of hackers or malware.
There is a general belief that the problem is with sharing sensitive information. However, sometimes, the problem is not with the information shared, but with the tools used to share that information—the unintentional use of file sharing software loaded with malware.
How Security Breaches Happen
Studies by the Ponemon Institute, a research group hired by companies to improve data protection measures, have found that it’s usually not an absence of digital security policies within a company responsible for security breaches, but the company culture around file sharing that caused security breaches.
In numerous instances, employees use file sharing tools without permission from the information technology department. Sometimes, employees don’t ask permission because they are unaware that they are flaunting the rules. At other times, they find the approval process irksome because it’s far too slow.
In almost all cases, the IT staff is not even aware when employees are risking data security and using unsafe file sharing applications.
In a large number of cases, problems have arisen because of a company’s preoccupation with other more pressing matters and the staff’s widespread indifference to the risk. Consequently, ungoverned file sharing may happen simply because an organization ignores the risk to their brand and reputation management.
Often those who flaunt the rules are executives and supervisors themselves— those who know their company’s position on file sharing protocols
Other employees within the company are not even aware of a general information security policy due to lack of education on risks associated with data loss and theft.
IT teams are often unaware of these leaks in data privacy because they have not been authorized to conduct random audits on file sharing behavior to ensure compliance with company guidance.
Three Levels of Prevention
There are many preventative measures a company can take to make business file sharing online safe. This prevention should be deployed on three levels: the organizational level, the information technology level, and the employee level.
1. Prevention at the Organizational Level:
Provisions should be placed to protect data through governance on how technology can be used in the workplace. In addition, staff meetings and memos should make clear all the rules and regulations to be followed when sharing sensitive information.
2. Prevention at the IT level:
Steps should be placed to empower the team to develop best practices for creating a secure information sharing environment. This might include being granted the power to authorize specific tools to ensure safe collaborative information sharing, deploying Information Rights Management technology and identity and access management tools, and rolling out collaboration apps that meet regulatory requirements. IT needs to be empowered and outfitted to ensure compliance measures throughout the organization.
3. Prevention at the Employee level:
Employees should be educated on what file sharing is and how it works. They should understand that file sharing means the process of downloading, installing, and deploying a file sharing program which allows anyone with that file sharing program to access any documents within it. They should also be trained to differentiate the difference between safe and unsafe programs. The file sharing program that they download should not contain bundle ware. In addition, they should never download .exe, .wma, or .bat files as these may often contain malware. Zip and rar files should also be downloaded with caution, again for the same reason.
Employees break the rules in an SMB in numerous ways, including doing personal file sharing in the workplace; sending unencrypted emails; failing to delete confidential documents as required by policy; and unintentionally sending files to people not authorized to receive them. Most of the times, these employees are not aware that they have compromised the company’s network or leaked confidential information. By creating clear guidance, empowering the IT team to ensure security measure, and by improving digital literacy across all organizational levels, file sharing risks can be mitigated or eliminated entirely.