Is unauthorised use of file sharing solutions putting organisations on a slippery slope?

With or without approval from IT or their managers, employees will find and use tools that make their jobs and lives easier. For example, workforce demand has mainstreamed the bring-your-own device (BYOD) movement as well as the pervasive use of file-sharing platforms like Dropbox. More and more employees are flocking to free file-sharing platforms because they provide anytime, anywhere access to the information they need to do their jobs.

Quick and easy access to business-critical documents is an obvious advantage for employees in today's fast-paced, information-driven workplace. But are file sharing and sync solutions appropriate for enterprise-wide use cases? What are the risks when employees use their personal file sharing platforms for storing and sharing business information? Is it possible for companies to provide their staff with a simple and fast solution for storing and sharing information while also protecting confidential files and avoiding many of the other risks associated with unsanctioned employee use of file sharing and sync platforms?

Are confidential documents secure and protected?

Employee use of Dropbox and other popular file-sharing platforms has created new security considerations for IT and management teams. It has become easier than ever for an employee to store and share a confidential document or file in their personal file sharing application. A Forrester report, 'Market Trends: Secure File Sharing and Collaboration in The Enterprise, Q1 2014,' explains how these platforms are promoting collaborative behaviors that contribute to more data breaches. The report concludes that file-sharing platforms 'demand increased security.'

>See also: Dropbox hit by Zeus phishing attack

According to an Association for Information and Image Management (AIIM) survey, 60% of large organisations cite that the potential impact of leaking confidential information would be high. For 13%, it would be 'disastrous.'

Protecting sensitive information from unauthorised access and use starts with well-defined policies. If employees are using file sharing and sync platforms, policies must be developed and enforced that dictate how these solutions can be used and for what kinds of content. Organisations cannot simply rely on the honor system, which means IT needs to implement security tools and protocols that allow them to enforce policies and identify violations and risky behaviors.

File sharing and sync solution providers acknowledge these challenges, and these applications have become more sophisticated with every update and new release. However, the security and access controls offered by file-sharing platforms still fall short of the capabilities featured in most enterprise content management (ECM) platforms. Furthermore, some ECM solutions now provide the same level of quick and easy file sharing and sync capabilities as the popular consumer platforms.

Proliferation of duplicate files and information silos

One might assume that a file sharing and sync solution would increase employee productivity and organisational efficiency. In reality, the opposite is frequently true.

File sharing and sync platforms often proliferate multiple copies and different versions of files. Syncing content might seem to avoid any problems relating to duplication, but these systems only manage files from a single user's file sharing platform and cannot reconcile document versions that reside within company network folders and other internal business systems. Employees must spend time locating the most current version of a document and in some cases re-create the original file if it cannot be found.

>See also: Security researches crack open Dropbox

Furthermore, when an employee uses their personal file-sharing platform at work, they essentially create a new information silo since it is not integrated with their organisation's existing systems and platforms for managing documents and files. When content resides within multiple and disconnected platforms, applications and locations, not only are employees challenged to find the information they need to perform their jobs, but compliance and security risks are also elevated.

The best of both worlds: easy access and managed content

Why have file-sharing platforms become so popular, and why do so many employees use them at work? They demand the ability to quickly and easily access and share critical content from anywhere at any time. If they don’t like the tools provided by IT, they inevitably look elsewhere and use unregulated and unauthorised 'work-around' solutions. 

If employees are already on this path, it is never too late to give them a better alternative. Best-in-class ECM platforms deliver the simplicity users crave along with the document control and security features IT requires to protect confidential information. In addition to securing sensitive content assets, the right ECM solution can connect previously disparate information silos to ensure that employees are always accessing the most current and accurate versions of documents.

Convincing the end users

How can organisations make the case for their employees to adopt an ECM system for managing and sharing documents and files instead of continuing to use unsanctioned file sharing and sync solutions? Management and IT teams must show a top-down commitment to the company-wide use of a single, unified solution for managing business information, and make sure that employees understand the security and productivity benefits it provides to the business.

An ECM platform can deliver faster and more intuitive searching capabilities that can be extended to nearly all business content. Any team that needs to access another team’s content repositories can replace manual information requests and exchanges with automatic access based on established access rules.

Another benefit of an ECM platform: built-in version controls ensure that employees are accessing the most accurate and up-to-date information. This removes the risk of making decisions based on outdated information, and employees don’t have to waste time manually searching for and reconciling multiple files and versions.

With the accurate information they need at their fingertips, rogue file sharing users can quickly transform into ECM platform champions.

>See also: Can Box really disrupt the ECM market?

Unsanctioned file sharing and sync solutions will always be appealing to users in environments that lack the latest information management policies, practices and tools. However, organisations must be ever vigilant to ensure their information assets are secured and properly utilised. If management and IT teams see that non-sanctioned employee use of file sharing and sync solutions are compromising their ability to effectively manage and protect content, they need to consider implementing an ECM system that provides the document control features they require along with the simplicity and ease of use their employees demand.


Sourced from Mika Javanainen, M-Files Corporation


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Ben Rossi

Ben was Vitesse Media's editorial director, leading content creation and editorial strategy across all Vitesse products, including its market-leading B2B and consumer magazines, websites, research and...

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