14 June, 2023

Ensuring secure document collaboration is essential to protect confidential and sensitive company information. Companies in regulated industries like life sciences, healthcare, finance, and law have the added demands for confidentiality to comply with industry and government regulations.

Complicating the need for security is the collaborative nature of today’s workplace. Major projects, from legal filings to pharmaceutical product development to merger and acquisition, require collaboration among an in-house team and third-party experts, some of whom are in remote locations, which means that the confidentiality of data and work files now depends on the security features of each team member’s laptop or home office computer.

Security Breaches Can Be Costly

These collaborative activities are potentially vulnerable to hackers, cybercriminals, and the competition, who can use AI-enhanced digital tools to seek weak points in the collaborative network. Hackers can infect documents with malware code and spread their virus when team members collaborate using cloud-based applications or archived documents housed in cloud-based folders or databases. In many cases, the victim company is forced to pay the cybercriminals within a set amount of time or risk losing file access forever. Compounding the potential cost is legal exposure: company shareholders can sue a firm for inadequate security, a negligence claim under premises of liability. Regulators, too, can levy a fine for security flaws, including the Federal Drug Administration under its 21 CFR Part 11 rules and fines by the FTC and state consumer protection agencies, which can be in the millions of dollars.

The takeaway from these examples is that every organization must have a safety-first approach when sharing confidential documents. Below are ten best practices to enhance the security of a company’s document collaboration process.

10 Best Practices to Ensure Secure Collaboration

1. Use a Secure Collaboration Platform

On-site banks of computers have been replaced by cloud-based platforms for storing documents and data - a virtual data room (VDR). A VDR provides an ultra-secure online platform for storing and sharing sensitive documents. Look for a platform that offers end-to-end document encryption, secure file sharing, audit logs, and granular control over user access and permissions even for collaborators in remote locations. For organizations in regulated industries, choose a platform that complies with industry-specific regulations, such as HIPAA for healthcare or GDPR for data protection. A premium VDR software provider not only meets these standards, but also provides templates for regulatory filings.

2. Strong User Authentication

Control over who can access files is vitally important. Once you invite a participant, provide additional security precautions like two-factor authentication to ensure that only authorized individuals can access the documents. The VDR administrator should also record the IP address of every device used by a collaborator, so that it is traceable in the event of a security breach.

3. Role-based Access Control (RBAC).

Not everyone needs access to all documents. Implement RBAC access controls to assign different levels of access and permissions to users based on their roles and responsibilities. This way, only authorized individuals can view, edit, or share specific documents.

4. Encrypt All Important Documents

Encrypt documents both at rest and in transit. Encryption ensures that even if unauthorized individuals gain access to the documents, the information remains unreadable without the encryption keys. Use industry-standard encryption protocols (e.g., AES-256) to protect data while stored on servers or during transmission over networks. This helps prevent unauthorized access or interception of documents by unauthorized users, most notably hackers and cybercriminals. Some VDR providers like ShareVault automatically encrypt documents as they are uploaded.

5. Document Version Control

Implement version control to track changes made to documents. Version control allows the team to revert to previous versions if needed. Contracts, partnership agreements, M&A and other activities are regularly subject to audits, so choose a provider that maintains a detailed record of document versions that includes user, date, and time. A valuable additional feature is the ability to produce an audit trail report with a single click.

6. Easy-Access Archives

Collaboration on important tasks typically requires frequent access to archived documents, from company financial reports to subject-matter expert analyses to regulatory guidelines. All these documents should be uploaded to the secure VDR environment. Choose a VDR provider like ShareVault that can handle large volumes of documents and includes software tools that make organizing and accessing documents fast and easy.

7. Document Watermarking and Remote Shredding

While it is natural to trust your collaborating team, you cannot guarantee that shared documents will remain confidential. To increase security, add a dynamic watermark to all sensitive documents to deter unauthorized distribution and to track the source if leaks occur. Another extra security feature is the ability to “remotely shred” a document even after it has been downloaded.

8. Regularly Update Software and Patches

Keep your collaboration software up to date with the latest security patches and updates. If you have chosen a best-in-class VDR provider like ShareVault, that provider will regularly update their software. These updates help protect against vulnerabilities that could be exploited by hackers.

9. Data Backup and Recovery

Regularly backup your documents to ensure that you have a copy in case of data loss or system failures. Implement a robust backup strategy and test the recovery process periodically.

10. Employee Training and Awareness

Educate and train your employees and third-party collaborators about security best practices, stressing the need for security protocols for collaboration activities as well as for archived documents. Stay abreast of incidents of data breaches and share them with your team to let them know just how costly a security error can be. Remember that security is an ongoing process, so regularly review and update your security measures as new threats and technologies emerge.

Start with a Secure Platform for Collaboration

Projects involving collaboration using confidential documents are invariably stressful. To lessen the stress, start with a quality virtual data room for storing and accessing confidential documents, with built-in software that makes collaboration fast and easy.

ShareVault: Ultra-secure Virtual Data Room Provider

A ShareVault virtual data room provides the essential security features that protect your documents and allow you to grant or remove access at the click of a button. ShareVault has more than 15 years of experience in Life Sciences, Finance and M&A, Law, and other industries. The ShareVault support team can provide a VDR solution customized to an organization’s unique needs, then back it up with 24/7/365 tech support.

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