The Limitations of Consumer File Sharing Platforms
Consumer file sharing platforms, while convenient and user-friendly, come with several security limitations that make them less than ideal in certain file sharing scenarios. These platforms, such as Google Drive, Dropbox, and iCloud, allow individuals to store, access, and share files across devices and with others.
However, the very features that make them so popular also make them vulnerable to various security risks. Consumer file sharing platforms may be more susceptible to data breaches and unauthorized access, making them unsuitable for handling sensitive corporate or confidential information.
Consumer file sharing platforms store data in the cloud, making them susceptible to data breaches. Hackers may target these platforms to gain access to sensitive personal or business information, potentially leading to identity theft or financial loss.
Most consumer-grade products, such as DropBox or Google Docs, are meant for collaboration and simple, easy consumer use. But these platforms were built for efficiency, not security. It is not recommended that these consumer products be used to handle secure or sensitive corporate documents (such as financial or legal information) due to a lack of ironclad data security.
Many consumer file sharing platforms rely on username and password combinations for authentication. This method is vulnerable to attacks like phishing, password cracking, and credential stuffing. Multi-factor authentication (MFA) can enhance security but is not always available or used by all users.
Users may accidentally delete files or suffer from data loss due to platform errors or issues. While most platforms have some form of file recovery, users must rely on the platform provider to retrieve lost data.
Consumer file sharing platforms make it easy and convenient to share files with others, but this poses inherent risks. Users may unintentionally share sensitive information with the wrong person or not properly configure access controls, leading to data exposure. Most importantly, once a file is shared, it becomes outside the control of the original owner. They cannot control who else the file is shared with and they have no way to revoke access.
Lack of Encryption
Consumer file sharing platforms often provide encryption for data at rest and data in transit, but the encryption keys are usually managed by the platform provider. This means that the provider can access your data, and if they are compelled by law enforcement or subject to a security breach, a user's files may be exposed.
Consumer file sharing platforms often offer integrations with third-party applications, and while these integrations can enhance productivity, they also create potential security vulnerabilities. Third-party apps may have access to your files, and if not properly vetted, they could expose your data to security risks.
Compliance and Regulation
Depending on the use case, consumer file sharing platforms may not meet regulatory requirements or industry-specific compliance standards. This can be a significant limitation for businesses that deal with sensitive data and can create compliance risks.
Consumer file sharing platforms provide users with limited control over security settings and configurations. This makes it difficult to granularly control who has access to documents and what actions can be taken with them.
Phishing and Social Engineering
Nefarious actors often use phishing and social engineering tactics to trick users into revealing their credentials, making it possible for unauthorized individuals to access their files on these platforms.
Data Residency and Legal Jurisdiction
Depending on where the platform provider stores user data and their legal jurisdiction, a user's files may be subject to different data protection laws and regulations, which can affect the user's privacy and security.
To mitigate these security limitations, users should take proactive steps to enhance the security of their files on consumer file sharing platforms. This includes using strong, unique passwords, enabling multi-factor authentication, if available, being mindful of sharing settings, and regularly reviewing and updating their files' access controls.
Additionally, for businesses and users with stringent security needs, it may be necessary to consider enterprise-level file sharing solutions with enhanced security features and control, such as a state-of-the-art virtual data room.
Virtual Data Rooms—A Better Solution for Secure File Sharing
Virtual Data Rooms (VDRs) are designed from the ground up to be more secure than consumer file sharing platforms. VDRs are commonly used in business settings for securely storing and sharing sensitive documents during activities such as:
- Mergers and Acquisitions
- Legal Due Diligence
- Financial Audits
- Asset Sales
Granular Access Control
VDRs allow administrators to set fine-grained access controls for both users and files. Permissions define which files specific users can access based on their roles and the information they need access to. Policies can then be assigned to different files or folders defining what a user can do with them, such as view-only, download, copy/paste, print etc., greatly minimizing the risk of unauthorized access or document mishandling.
VDRs typically employ strong encryption (both in transit and at rest) to protect data. This ensures that even if data is intercepted during transfer or compromised on the server, it remains unreadable without the proper decryption keys.
VDRs often use AES for encrypting data. The Advanced Encryption Standard (AES) is the trusted standard algorithm used by the United States government, as well as other organizations. Although extremely efficient in the 128-bit form, AES also uses 192- and 256-bit keys for very demanding encryption purposes.
Multi-factor User Authentication
VDRs often support multi-factor authentication (MFA), which requires users to provide multiple forms of authentication (e.g., a password and a one-time code from a mobile app) before gaining access. Multi-factor authentication serves to keep documents secure even if a password is breached.
Secure Data Centers
VDR providers often store data in highly secure data centers that offer physical security, backup power supplies, and redundant network connections, reducing the risk of data breaches due to infrastructure vulnerabilities. These data centers are usually unmarked and employ strict access control.
VDRs keep detailed logs of user activities, including who accessed which documents and when. These comprehensive audit trails can include every user login, agreement clickthrough, video watched or document viewed, printed or downloaded, with comprehensive specificity. Administrators can also trace the chronology of activities by user and gain insights into their interest level and what they care about, providing valuable deal intelligence as well as critical data for regulatory compliance.
Many VDRs offer advanced security features like dynamic watermarking, which adds user-specific information to documents. Watermarks are clearly visible, applied diagonally across the page or screen, yet do not interfere with the readability of the underlying text. The watermark text is customizable, and can contain dynamic information such as:
- User's name
- User's email address
- User's IP address
- Current date
- Current time
Watermarking provides a clear indication to the reader that the content is confidential, and since the user identity can be included in the watermark, it allows for a simple but effective deterrent against distribution of printed documents to unauthorized readers.
Many VDRs have a policy that will allow printing to physical printers while preventing printing to PDF. This provides an additional security countermeasure since printing to PDF is the equivalent of being able to save a digital copy of the document.
VDRs are designed with compliance in mind and often meet various industry-specific and regional regulations and standards, such as GDPR, HIPAA, or SOC 2.
Some VDRs provide controlled spaces for collaboration, allowing users to collaborate on sensitive documents in real time without leaving the secure environment of the virtual data room, vastly reducing the risk of data leakage. These collaboration modules often include features such as version control, version history, and task management tools.
Some VDRs allow administrators to expire file permissions either on an absolute date or after a relative delay (number of days) from the date / time the files were uploaded. After expiration, the corresponding users will no longer be able to access files to which the policy has been assigned.
An expiration feature allows administrators to enforce deadlines associated with their business processes. Using this feature in combination with Information Rights Management (IRM), means that even documents that have already been downloaded cannot be opened after expiration, reducing the risk of files lingering in perpetuity.
In a world where employees often work remotely on laptops, tablets and phones, there's always the risk of devices being lost or stolen. VDRs often provide the ability to remotely wipe data from remote devices in order to prevent unauthorized access.
Customer Support and Training
VDR providers typically offer 24/7 customer support and a dedicated project manager to help users understand and implement security best practices and to resolve technical issues if they arise.
In summary, unlike consumer-grade file sharing platforms, VDRs are designed with a focus on bank-grade security, confidentiality, and compliance, making them a preferred choice for businesses and organizations when sharing and managing sensitive documents that must remain secure.
ShareVault has been providing organizations of all types and sizes with secure document sharing solutions for over 15 years.