In today’s digital age, document collaboration has become an essential aspect of modern work environments. At small and large organizations alike, the ability to collaborate on documents is key to productivity and efficiency. However, with the convenience of online collaboration comes the responsibility to ensure the security of sensitive information.
Organizations must be able to protect data when their employees digitally share files. This applies to all organizations, from small accounting firms handling client data to large arms suppliers. Here’s why secure document collaboration is important.
1. Protecting Sensitive Information: Many documents contain confidential or proprietary data that must be protected from unauthorized access or leaks. Ensuring secure collaboration helps prevent data breaches, insider threats, and intellectual property theft.
2. Compliance with Regulations: Depending on your industry, you may be subject to various data protection regulations (e.g. CMMC, DFARS 7012, GDPR, HIPAA) that mandate stringent security measures for handling sensitive information. Secure document collaboration helps you meet these legal requirements.
3. Building Trust: Clients, partners, and stakeholders expect their data to be handled with the utmost care. Demonstrating a commitment to secure collaboration builds trust with your collaborators and strengthens business relationships.
Traditional collaboration systems focus on keeping hackers out of servers, relying on regular password updates, role based access, and user education to protect data. In the face of increasingly sophisticated attackers, these systems build taller and taller walls around servers.
This approach does not work. Here are some of the most significant failings of a conventional security model.
Servers can be hacked.
No matter how high the wall, hackers will eventually breach the server. Once a hacker has breached the server, they have access to your entire system. Allowing the security of your data to depend entirely on defending your server puts you in an arms race with hackers that you will ultimately lose.
Passwords are inherently fallible.
Passwords typically fit into one of two categories. Passwords in the first category are nonrandom strings that are memorable, but also guessable. Hackers can easily compromise these passwords via brute force password cracking tactics.
Passwords in the second category are long, random strings that are difficult to guess, but also difficult to remember. These passwords frequently have to be written down or stored in password managers. Hackers can steal stored passwords.
Passwords are inherently vulnerable. An ideal system will minimize use of passwords.
Role based access creates single points of failure.
Traditional systems aim to minimize vulnerability by granting role based access. This approach creates powerful administrators with wide reaching access, who then become targets for hackers. If a hacker can compromise these individuals or their accounts, they have the proverbial keys to the kingdom and can access troves of data.
Don’t turn your team members into honeypots. In a truly secure system, no one individual should be able to bring down your entire organization.
User education depends on human perfection.
Traditional security relies on training to defend against phishing and spoofing attacks. They believe that, if all of your employees know the key signs of an untrustworthy email, social engineering won’t work. That’s not true.
Humans are fallible. It doesn’t matter how well you educate your team, the possibility of someone clicking on a bad link always exists. Further, modern hackers are becoming more and more adept at covering their tracks. Phishing and spoofing emails can look virtually identical to genuine emails.
Instead of expecting your team to operate with mechanical accuracy, make their virtual work spaces safe. By employing trusted communities, which will be explained below, you ensure that your team is only able to communicate with trusted communication partners. That removes the need for constant vigilance.
Fortunately, there’s an alternative way to secure data for secure document collaboration. Here’s how it works.
A better approach to securing files recognizes the inherent flaws in traditional methods of protecting data. This realization is seen most acutely in the move away from using passwords to protect data and adoption instead of two factor authentication solutions such as one time passwords, passkeys or certificates. In these instances credentials cannot be stolen because they are impossible to guess or recreate.
PreVeil, for example, relies on the use of user and device certificates to uniquely identify users and integrate them into its use of end-to-end encryption to protect user data. Here’s how it works.
The weakness of traditional passwords is that they use the same string to both encrypt and decrypt data. End-to-end encryption uses separate cryptographic keys for encryption and decryption, creating a public-private key pair. Public keys are widely disseminated and are used to lock or encrypt a message. Private keys, used to unlock or decrypt the message, are stored on individual endpoint devices and thus only accessible to the user. The certificates mentioned above are a type of private key
Systems using end-to-end encryption create public and private cryptographic keys for each person who joins. The automatic creation of public-private key pairs eliminates the need for passwords.
As explained above, passwords are inherent points of weakness for secure document collaboration. Passwords are always either guessable, or stealable, or both. Thus end-to-end encryption adds another layer of security by eliminating passwords.
Protects the Server
An ideal system for protecting user files eliminates single points of failure. It eliminates passwords and stores decryption keys on individual endpoint devices, so that servers don’t become honeypots. Files are encrypted before they leave the phone or computer by a unique public key which is available to everyone. The messages are only decrypted by the recipient’s private key when they reach their destination.
With end-to-end encryption, hackers can’t access data on the server because they don’t have the private keys required to decrypt the data. Instead, secret keys are stored on the individual user’s device and are only available to the recipient.
End-to-end encryption eliminates vulnerability on the server and in transit. Even if the server is breached, all an attacker will see is gibberish.
A secure system, such as PreVeil’s Email and Drive platform, replaces administrators with approval groups. Administrators are traditionally single points of failure, making them ideal targets for hackers. Further, a rogue administrator presents a significant risk to a system because they have broad privileges to access information such as corporate or compliance data.
Approval groups eliminate this vulnerability. Instead of giving individual(s) broad privileges, every member of an approval group must present their fraction of a key in order to create the one whole key that enables those privileges. Distribution of trust means that no one individual on your team can compromise your system.
The problem with the internet is that you often can’t be one hundred percent certain whom you’re communicating with. The file you’ve received could be from your CEO or it could be from a savvy social engineer halfway across the world.
Trusted communities defend you and your team against phishing attacks and other social engineering. Trusted communities ensure that only white-listed members of communities are able to communicate and exchange files. This eliminates the risk of phishing and spoofing and provides an ideal way to protect sensitive email and files.
Traditional systems depend on security training to teach employees how to watch out for phishing and spoofing attacks. Even the most careful employee can have a moment of human fallibility and fall for a clever trap. With trusted communities, that’s no longer a concern. You’ll always know that the person you’re communicating digitally with genuinely is the teammate they claim to be.
Secure document collaboration is a vital component of modern business practices, enabling teams to work efficiently while safeguarding sensitive information. By investing in secure file-sharing platforms, enforcing access controls, promoting good security habits, and educating collaborators about potential risks, organizations can enjoy the benefits of seamless teamwork without compromising data security.
Take a proactive approach to document security to build trust, protect your reputation, and ensure a more robust collaborative environment for the future.
Gregg Laroche is VP of Product at PreVeil and has over 20 years experience leading technology development and bringing products to market. At PreVeil, Gregg leads both product strategy and product evangelism.