Having a remote team opens you up to a variety of benefits. Your overheads may be lower, your business can be more agile, and you can access a diverse global talent pool. That said, there are certainly some risks involved with this approach.
One of the most prevalent potential issues involves sharing files securely with your remote workforce. When your employees aren’t all working in the same space, you have less control over how protected the company data they interact with is. Missteps here can lead to costly breaches, productivity disruptions, and consumer confidence issues.
Let’s look a little closer at how to share files securely with a remote team. How can you best prepare and what key actions must you and your team take?
Assessing Your Security Needs
The first thing to understand about how to share files securely with remote teams is that there is no “one size fits all” approach. Each company and team will have nuanced security needs that you need to take into consideration. By regularly assessing these, you can make certain that you utilize the tools and practices that are most appropriate to your business, thereby keeping everyone involved safer.
Some of the aspects you should assess include:
The types of documents your remote team shares can impact the security process you implement. Are there sensitive documents related to your business’ intellectual property? Will they be sharing reports with financial or confidential data? In some cases, you might have different types of documents that vary in levels of sensitivity.
Certainly, one approach is to standardize your security approach so that all files are shared with the tightest level of security. However, it might be more practical to classify files by different levels of sensitivity and implement targeted solutions for each level.
In an increasingly digital business landscape, many industries have non-negotiable regulatory frameworks surrounding handling certain types of data. There may also be regulations specifically related to your remote team. For instance, if you’re working with freelancers based in the European Union (EU), data sharing between your team may be subject to General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) rules, as these contributors are technically outside of your organization.
Your security assessments should include an evaluation of the regulatory environment in which your remote team operates. Get a solid sense of what the laws state and how this impacts your team’s activities.
One of the reasons that you need to perform regular assessments is that the security landscape is constantly changing. New threats will arise both in general and specifically related to the tools, sector, and data your remote teams are interacting with. Wherever possible, work with security professionals to gain insights into how the specific characteristics of your business affect your file-sharing risk profile.
Choosing Appropriate File-Sharing Tools
When you’re using remote teams, you generally won’t be sharing files using a flash drive and it may be impractical to send them via email, particularly large files. Therefore, you’ll likely be using software to store and share your files. This might be in the form of a cloud-based storage system, such as Google Drive. Alternatively, many remote teams use collaborative project management platforms, like Asana. Before engaging with any software platform, it’s vital to do your due diligence and research the security capabilities of the tool.
When evaluating different file-sharing tools, you must establish which features are included — if any — that enhance security.
Some of the features you should look for include:
- End-to-end encryption: Encryption should be the most basic feature you look for in software for sharing files remotely with a remote team. In essence, this locks access to the file. With end-to-end encryption, the software provides a key for each user, which is used to decrypt the file when authorized collaborators attempt to open it. This measure protects sensitive information from potential breaches.
- Access controls: All good file-sharing tools should allow administrators to define and enforce access permissions for each file. This not only ensures outside parties can’t access files, but it also means team members only have access to the files necessary for their roles. This granular control minimizes the risk of unnecessary data exposure and allows you to maintain a tight level of control over sensitive information.
- File scanning: One of the challenges of remote teams is that you may not always have full control over how each worker uses their devices. This means that some workers’ files might be exposed to infection by malware or ransomware before being shared among your team. Some software platforms feature file scanning, which enables you to quarantine infected files rather than expose your networks to infection.
Adopting Best Practices
Once you’ve assessed your specific security needs and selected the right file-sharing tools, the next step is to implement a set of best practices to ensure your remote team shares files securely on a day-to-day basis. It’s important to remember, though, that these practices are the basic steps you should take. Treat them as a framework on which to build other actions that address the nuanced challenges of your remote teams.
These should include:
Creating strong access controls
Implementing strong access controls is a cornerstone of sharing files securely with a remote team. Make sure your company security protocols assert that everybody who creates and manages files should take the time to assign relevant permissions. If necessary, create a document that outlines which members of staff are cleared for access to files for each security classification. There should never be a situation where a file is accessible to all members of the organization unless everybody needs to interact with it.
Regularly updating passwords
Password hygiene is a fundamental aspect of cybersecurity, particularly with remote operations. Communicate to your team how important it is to use strong and unique passwords when using file-sharing platforms. This also extends to passwords for accessing individual high-sensitivity documents. Wherever possible, multi-factor authentication (MFA) protocols should be used to add an extra layer of protection.
One of the common challenges of working with remote teams is that they won’t always be operating from secure networks. While they might have relatively strong measures at home, they may occasionally work from public areas, such as coffee shops, libraries, or coworking spaces. It’s wise to provide your staff with access to virtual private network (VPN) software for use when sharing files in public spaces. There are a lot of good ones out there, but I have always been partial to Pure VPN.
So many of the issues surrounding secure sharing revolve around human error. It is vital, then, to ensure you conduct initial and refresher training sessions with your remote team. The human element remains a critical factor in ensuring the success of any security strategy. Discuss the importance of secure file sharing, the risks associated with improper practices, and the specific security features of your chosen file-sharing platform. By giving remote team members this knowledge, you equip them to make informed decisions about security.
Ensuring your team can share files securely is key to maximizing the positive impact of remote operations. It’s important to do your due diligence in this area, from establishing the prevalent security risks to identifying the most appropriate sharing platforms. Remember, though, that the cybersecurity landscape is constantly changing. You should regularly reassess the current threats and protective tools that are relevant to your business. By keeping on top of this, you can help your team and your business to truly thrive.
Jared has worked remotely for 15 years in various marketing capacities, and has managed hundreds of marketing campaigns along the way. He has held freelance, agency, and in-house positions for companies large and small.