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Updated Oct 27, 2023

6 Best Practices to Share Files Securely

Sharing files is common for small businesses, but it's important to do so securely to protect sensitive data.

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Sean Peek, Business Ownership Insider and Senior Analyst
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This guide was reviewed by a Business News Daily editor to ensure it provides comprehensive and accurate information to aid your buying decision.

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For most businesses, cloud-based file-sharing services provide easy, convenient access to information at any time, anywhere. In fact, companies that are slow to adopt formal, cloud-based file-sharing software may find that their employees use their own personal cloud storage accounts to add a layer of convenience to their work. However, employees who use personal accounts and free services designed for consumer use could be putting your business at high risk for a security breach. That’s why it’s crucial businesses keep security top of mind and follow best practices when storing and sharing files.

What are best practices for secure file sharing?

To avoid the risks associated with consumer software, Dan Sloshberg, vice president of product and customer marketing at cloud services provider Exclaimer, advised business owners to use a file-sharing solution that is designed specifically for companies instead of everyday individuals.

Furthermore, Sloshberg suggested business owners follow the below tips to keep their critical information protected with a secure, controlled file-sharing service in place.

1. Address your company’s file-sharing needs head-on.

A lot of file sharing happens at work. Instead of ignoring data protection, make it a priority by finding a service that allows users to work within email to send and receive files – regardless of size – instead of using workaround solutions.

2. Choose a business-grade system.

Consumer-grade file-sharing services can leave you susceptible to data leaks and other security threats. They also make e-discovery or statements of compliance difficult. Find a business-grade service that gives you appropriate visibility and security controls, including access control, expiring file access, and compliance and e-discovery. Our picks for the best document management systems are a great place to start your search.

3. Use a cloud-based service.

You want a solution you can install and implement quickly at your office. Business-focused cloud services offer an ideal setup speed and ongoing agility. Plus, cloud-based systems usually have backups and redundancies in place to ensure you can always access a copy of your files should disaster strike. 

4. Consider an integrated system versus a separate-point solution.

You may be tempted to find a stand-alone system that simply facilitates file sharing. Consider, though, a more integrated system that includes other key capabilities, such as email security. The more you can streamline your business software suite without sacrificing security, the better.

5. Train and educate users.

Employees need to understand the sensitivities of different types of information and the risks associated with mishandling such data. They should have a clear understanding of what they cannot share outside the business and the secure ways of sharing appropriate information with external parties. If you’ve invested in a secure service, you need to make sure employees actually use it.

6. Don’t discount ease of use.

With easy access to intuitive consumer-grade services, your chosen business file-sharing solution must be just as easy to use as the consumer options and as frictionless as possible. It also must be easily accessible for remote workers. All of this is key to ensuring its ongoing use so that it can successfully protect your business’s information. If your system is challenging to use or limited to specific locations, employee adoption will be harder to achieve.

TipTip
Read our M-Files review to learn why this platform is one of the best document management systems for companies concerned about usability.

What is the importance of sharing files securely?

The importance of sharing files securely in our interconnected world cannot be overstated.

“With work and personal lives becoming increasingly blurred, especially for small business owners and managers, the delineation of work data and personal information has [blurred] too,” said Sloshberg.

This makes secure file sharing critical for small businesses. With the consumerization of IT and the bring-your-own-device (BYOD) movement, employees now use traditionally consumer-oriented technology for business purposes, Sloshberg said. 

“It’s easy to forget that the information we handle in our work lives often requires greater care,” he said. “Its value and privacy can be vital to business success, and it should be adequately protected at all times. [And] data can be at its most vulnerable when being shared.”

Although email is the most common way businesses communicate, collaborate and share information, limitations within commonly used email systems, such as file-size and storage constraints, often create restrictions, Sloshberg said.

“[These] restrictions force users to find workaround solutions,” he added. “They most commonly turn to consumer-grade file-sharing services to overcome this productivity barrier of email.”

These services, however, are meant for personal accounts and are severely inadequate when it comes to protecting a business’s data.

“The consequences of consumer-grade file-sharing services in the workplace can be far-reaching,” Sloshberg said. Potential problems include “loss of IP, sensitive data leakage, loss of visibility and [lack of] control over where data resides, as well as compliance, regulatory and e-discovery breaches,” Sloshberg said.

Key TakeawayKey takeaway
Secure file-sharing solutions for businesses offer a level of data protection that isn’t possible with consumer-facing services. This protection can minimize severe business risks such as data breaches.

What are the risks involved with file sharing?

While we highly encourage organizations to embrace a paperless office, sharing files electronically always involves an element of risk. Here are some of the possible consequences of unsecure file sharing.

  1. Release of sensitive data: One of the most serious risks of file-sharing software is that sensitive data can be exposed, either intentionally or unintentionally, if employees aren’t careful and proper security policies are not in place. Once an unauthorized party gains access to your file-sharing service, it’s difficult to discern what they accessed and just how far your private information has spread.
  2. Opportunity for attacks: If your file-sharing software requires you to bypass firewalls to upload or download files, you may be opening yourself up to attackers who can perform distributed denial-of-service, “man in the middle” and various other cyberattacks against your system.
  3. Installation of malicious software: If an employee opens a risky file that was placed on your file-sharing service, they may inadvertently download and introduce malware, such as viruses, spyware, worms and Trojan horses, on their computer and possibly compromise the entire network.

What is the most secure file-sharing service?

Some options for the most secure file-sharing services include the following:

Citrix ShareFile

Citrix ShareFile has excellent security features. The service offers 256-bit AES encryption, so if you’re hacked, the files will be useless to the hacker. ShareFile also includes a firewall and antivirus protection. If a computer is stolen or owned by a fired employee, you can wipe restricted files remotely from any computer logged in to your account.

Besides the encryption and firewall safety measures, Citrix ShareFile offers brand customization, meaning that instead of your employees and clients seeing a Citrix site when they log on, they see your company logo and branding consistently throughout the sharing platform. Also, ShareFile offers folder permission controls, user usage controls, identity-verification tools and file-expiration options – everything you want in a business-grade file-sharing solution.

Egnyte

Egnyte is a hybrid cloud and local storage solution that also has stellar security features. Like ShareFile, Egnyte transfers files using 256-bit AES encryption over SSL, so any data that is compromised is useless to attackers.

Egnyte also offers a custom branding feature so your company’s logo, branding and messaging are reflected. Because it’s a hybrid storage solution, the platform can detect changes to files and sync them to keep both the cloud and local copies up to date. Additionally, if one system fails, you still have access to important files via the other database.

SugarSync

Like Citrix ShareFile and Egnyte, SugarSync is a secure file-sharing platform that secures files by using 256-bit AES encryption. You can set permissions to allow individuals to access, view or edit specific files. The program also lets you remotely wipe devices of sensitive data in the event a device is lost or stolen. [Learn how to secure your business’s devices and network.]

Like other secure file-sharing platforms, you can share files without providing access to your database. For business accounts, teams can access shared folders from their own individual accounts, and individuals outside the company, such as clients, can use a public link to view specific files.

Is Dropbox file sharing secure?

Generally speaking, Dropbox’s file sharing is secure. While Dropbox’s consumer-facing product doesn’t offer all of the state-of-the-art security features that a service like Citrix ShareFiles provides, Dropbox does have standard security features. For example, files are password-protected, and encryption keeps your files safe.

However, Dropbox doesn’t provide identity verification. If your password and link to files fall into the wrong hands, your information could be compromised. That said, Dropbox’s business platform includes enough advanced security features, such as remote wiping, that we still recommend it as one of the best document management systems.

TipTip
Dropbox is secure, but perhaps not enough so for business use. ShareFile, Egnyte and SugarSync are all superior options for business-level security.

Sharing files securely can also mean sharing files easily

The best systems for securely sharing files also make it easier to share files in the first place. As such, file-sharing and document management systems are a must for both information safety and convenience. Your company needs business-level solutions to properly serve both purposes and keep your team connected and your data protected.

Max Freedman contributed to this article.

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Sean Peek, Business Ownership Insider and Senior Analyst
Sean Peek is the co-founder of a self-funded small business that employs more than a dozen team members. His years of hands-on entrepreneurial experience in bootstrapping, operations management, process automation and leadership have strengthened his knowledge of the B2B world and the most pressing issues facing business owners today. Peek uses his expertise to guide fellow small business owners and aspiring entrepreneurs in the areas of marketing, finance and software technology. Peek excels at developing customer bases and fostering long-term client relationships, using lean principles to drive efficiency and cost-saving, and identifying growth areas. He has demonstrated his business savvy through collaborations with Forbes, Inc., Entrepreneur and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
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