Is your sensitive data spiralling out of control?

With 114.3 billion business emails sent and received globally each day, email is one of most proliferant communications platform available today. Among other things, confidential data (key financials, client information, patent filings etc.) is channelled via email daily. Email is also used to collaborate with colleagues, teams and external parties and in this processes many attachments are sent back and forth to various recipients for review, comment and amendment. There is nothing new here BUT, have you ever thought about the rate at which these sensitive documents are actually replicated during this process? It is a cause for security concern, here’s why…

Multiple copies of sensitive documents inside the firm 

Say an individual updates and resends documents to his 7 team member, this file is replicated 7 times to start with. As another member amends the file and resends this to the group, the file is replicated a further 7 times. Another round of approval, and we reach 21 replications. 

Essentially, the rate at which the documents are duplicated rises exponentially! And we are not taking into account the fact that the original e-mail attachment is safeguarded on the e-mail server (or your mailbox), which in fact doubles the numbers of copies. This carries on until the point of approval. Next, and more importantly, it’s worth looking at what happens to all these attachment.


Mail server issue aside, as attachments are sent to each user separately, users are left to their own devices to manage these. This is where the chaos begins! Documents are saved anywhere from the personal desktop or in a folder within a shared drive often without any password protection but that of the operating system or the document management system. Even worse, different team members may save all the versions of the document in various folders within the central repository. Therefore, for every additional copy of a sensitive document produced, the probability of it being accessed by unauthorised individuals is increased. 

Managing feedback

Security is not the only issue here. When information resides in different places not only do users spend more time searching for documents, but when they do find it, it is difficult to determine which version is the latest. 

If after your first sending you receive feedback from different people, how do you manage what is to be take into account or not, in what order?  How do you make sure you don't miss any? Also as comments and amends are provided within the bodies of the emails, it is hard to track changes as the document evolves. All of this has a direct impact on productivity. 

Mobility and BYOD

With today’s mobile workforce, users need to access documents remotely. Documents are then replicated onto other devices, including personal ones if your firm allows BYOD and quite often through consumer based cloud applications (Google Drive, MicroSoft SkyDrive amongst many others). The initial file ends up being copied onto their laptop, mobile phone and iPad which, in most cases reside outside of the corporate security network and puts confidential documents at further risk due to cyber-attacks or through personal device simply being lost or stolen. 

With documents residing outside of the firm’s secure firewall, firms rapidly lose control of the very data that they are responsible for safeguarding leading to breaches in compliance. It also makes the process of eDiscovery or litigation-related activities harder to undertake as privacy issues in some countries do not permit IT teams access to devices owned by employees. 

The point here is certainly not that firms should avoid the new technologies now available, to support mobility and collaboration, but to be aware of the danger inherent to these innovations and therefore to select appropriate tools in order to keep control on the firm’s data.

Secure file sharing technologies

While email is a great communications medium, when it comes to collaborating, there are other technologies that provide a great deal more efficiency and security. As a first step, cloud sharing technologies can be used to facilitate collaboration on documents. Professional solutions allow teams to store, share and comment on files with selected and authorised colleagues or external parties, in a secure, controlled location. It eliminates the unnecessary document duplication inherent with emails and therefore reduces the risk of documents falling into the wrong hands. Fine-tuned rights management, audit trails, access logs are some of the features that keep you in total control of the document. 

Secondly it ensures that the documents and its subsequent versions are stored in a single placeso there are no more questions as to where they are located. Individuals can also be confident that they are working on the latest versions of the files. Additionally, as all the notes and comments are logged together with the documents, all the changes made throughout the life of the document can be tracked – important for times when documents need to be audited.

Finally, a secure enterprise-grade file sharing solutions removes the need for employees to rely on their personal cloud storage applications. It fully supports mobile users as they can access work related documents from their mobile devices but with the high grade security which encrypts data in transit, in use and at rest. For times when a mobile device with sensitive information is lost or stolen, the remote wipe capabilities can be used to delete documents and stop it from being spread any further. 

As technology has increased the speed at which documents are created and shared, it has at the same time caused havoc. As large volumes of documents relayed daily, the risk of information being lost or stolen can spiral out of control if this is not controlled or monitored. The deployment of appropriate technologies and policies to safeguard this information can help. Not only will this offer firms with a greater degree of security and control to ensure that sensitive documents remain protected, but it also provides teams with a solid platform to work from while boosting productivity and supporting their mobile needs – a win-win situation for all!

What do you use as a collaboration tool in your firm? How has this helped your firm in terms of workflow and productivity? We’d love to hear your story…

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