File sharing — the transfer of digital items from one device to another — is a standard business practice in almost every industry. Think of how many files get uploaded to Google Drive or your company’s Slack channel every day. While businesses benefit from the ease of contemporary file sharing, it comes at a price. This article explores the benefits and risks of uncontrolled sharing and then reviews the top solutions for reducing those risks.
Today, employees can upload even extremely large files to cloud servers, and their colleagues across the world can view the content, make edits or add comments, and pass them back without ever having to download them.
Sharing files through the cloud offers significant cost savings, since companies no longer need to purchase and maintain their own servers to host the data. It also offers flexibility: Team members can share files wherever they are to collaborate easily with both internal and external personnel, without ever having to worry about whether a file is too big for email.
Unfortunately, file sharing also involves multiple security risks, including the following:
- Data leakage — Most sharing platforms let users send files to people outside of the company network. That can be great for collaboration, but it can also be a security nightmare. It’s too easy for an employee to send a document with intellectual property or regulated sensitive data to the wrong person, whether by accident or design. It’s also easy for users of many platforms to set their own share permissions. You can advise your people to restrict access, but you might not be able to lock down their settings.
- Account breaches — With many file-sharing platforms and collaboration tools, users set their own passwords. If a user chooses a weak password or reuses passwords from other sites, a malicious actor could easily break into that user’s account to share or download proprietary content.
- Lack of accountability — When employees share files, in some cases it may be challenging for system administrators to track who is sending which files to which third parties. That lack of accountability could land the company in trouble if sensitive data is compromised.
- Infected files — Not all data-sharing and collaboration platforms have the same level of encryption, and many let users accept files from third parties. If your teams are receiving and downloading files, your system could be at risk.
- Shadow IT — When a company doesn’t have an official secure file sharing system that is approved and managed by the IT team, employees will find their own solutions. That’s how a company ends up with shadow IT — software and hardware that operates outside of the awareness of the IT department. When teams use shadow IT file sharing solutions, the entire corporate data system is at risk.
There are different ways to share data:
- File transfer protocol (FTP) — FTP transfers computer files over the network, usually from a computer to a server.
- Peer-to-peer networks — Files can be shared directly between machines connected through the same peer-to-peer technology.
- Removable storage media — Removable media, such as USB drives, used to transfer files between different machines.
- Online file sharing services — Online platforms like Box and Dropbox enable users to easily share files online without having to install any specific software to connect the devices. The following section explores the advantages and disadvantages of the top online file sharing services.
The following are the top secure file sharing solutions for easy sharing of business data, along with an analysis of their safety and access features.
One of the most well-established file-sharing companies, Box serves 97,000 organizations, including 68% of the Fortune 500. Its primary focus is on meeting the needs of larger enterprises. Available security and permissions options are advanced, making it appropriate for companies and firms with valuable intellectual property.
- Security is compliant with HIPAA, FINRA and other regulatory systems.
- Encryption keys enable you to track who is accessing which files.
- Enterprise-level controls enable sharing and collaboration.
- Dedicated “confidential” setting can be used for internal-only communications.
- Granular permission settings are included.
- Limited document preview can result in employees opening unknown documents.
- Only limited tracking and content management are included at lower price points.
Dropbox is designed for more casual use than Box. It has fewer advanced features, and users can more easily share and select permissions, so IT departments have less control over file security. Dropbox is most appropriate for smaller companies with a less robust tech support system.
- Users can share files with recipients who don’t use Dropbox.
- File and version recovery is user-friendly.
- Professional users can password-protect files and disable downloads.
- Centralized permission and sharing controls are limited.
- Advanced security features are limited.
Google Drive powers Google Docs, one of the first and most popular cloud-based document collaboration tools. Available to the public in its standard form, it offers more functionality to businesses in two ways:
- One option is Drive for G Suite, which has advanced information rights management functions and default admin sharing controls. The Business and Enterprise editions include audit logs for usage analysis.
- Businesses also have the option of subscribing to Drive Enterprise as a standalone service. It includes advanced administrative access management and a robust security center to keep intellectual property safe.
- It is easy to use and familiar.
- Files can be shared with any email address.
- Users can limit sharing, downloading and copying of files.
- Robust administrative controls are provided for file sharing.
- Advanced data tracking and retrieval are possible with Google Vault.
- Collaboration requires a Google account.
- Advanced security features are limited.
OneDrive is Microsoft’s version of Google Drive. It’s designed primarily to enable sharing of Office 365 files, which makes it useful for teams who use that software, but it’s less welcoming for non-Windows teams. On the plus side, it offers in-depth permissions settings and security so that IT teams can control the movement of data.
- Granular permission settings are provided.
- Encryption for mobile devices is an option.
- Administrators can monitor activity.
- Advanced security features are included for business users.
- Integrations are limited for teams who don’t use Office 365.
If OneDrive is Microsoft’s answer to Google Drive, Teams is its answer to Slack. It’s a fully-featured collaboration tool designed for Office 365 users and has support at the enterprise level — as long as your company uses Microsoft products.
- It offers more functions than a single-purpose file sharing platform.
- It includes file editing capabilities.
- It supports multiple identity models and multifactor user authentication.
- An Office 365 license is required,
- Sharing with external users can be challenging to control.
Unlike Microsoft Teams, companies can purchase and use SharePoint Online as a standalone solution. It satisfies complex security and collaboration needs with functions like advanced guest access controls and confidentiality labels for documents. SharePoint also allows administrators to manage sharing settings at the administrative level.
- Access controls are available for administrators.
- External sharing can be controlled.
- Extensive content governance functionality is provided.
- It is pricier than comparable options.
- Employees will require training to use the platform effectively.
How can organizations make file sharing more secure?
Popular file sharing solutions offer an array of security capabilities, but to use those features effectively, you need to know which data requires protection. Data discovery and classification solutions are essential because they group information based on sensitivity level, enabling you to secure it accordingly. For example, you can ensure that the personal data of your customers and employees is stored in authorized and protected locations only.
Netwrix Data Classification automatically discovers, classifies and tags data across multiple repositories — including a wide range of cloud solutions, such as Box, Dropbox, Google Drive, OneDrive for Business, Microsoft Teams and SharePoint Online. You can use the predefined taxonomies right out of the box or easily customize them to suit your needs. Its highly accurate classification technology will ensure that all sensitive information receives the correct tags, making your data protection controls and policies much more effective. Netwrix Data Classification even includes automated workflows that dramatically improve data security. For example, it can automatically spot sensitive data in unsecure locations, move it to a designated quarantine area and notify the responsible individual or team.
What techniques and tools do businesses use to power seamless file sharing?
A cloud storage service typically offers the most seamless experience. Some businesses choose a dedicated file-sharing service like Dropbox or Box, while others prefer cross-functional collaboration tools that allow in-platform editing and commenting.
Which file sharing service is the most secure?
Most file-sharing tools have security protection in place for all users. If you’re looking for something with granular permissions and enterprise controls, look for something like Box or SharePoint.
How do you ensure secure file sharing for business?
- Choose a service with end-to-end encryption and granular permission settings.
- Implement security controls at the enterprise level.
- Standardize access rules to establish who can view, edit and download files.
- Audit file sharing activity regularly.
- Require secure passwords.
- Limit download capabilities and set expiration dates for shared