Sharing is caring, as the saying goes. We rely heavily on file sharing for collaboration, both inside and outside our organizations. Not only is it quick and easy to collaborate this way, it also enhances productivity. 

It’s safe to say that file sharing isn’t going anywhere, so you would be wise to start managing it before the complexity grows over your head. In this blog post, we’ll give you easy tips on how to protect your files so you can keep sharing and collaborating — responsibly.

The risks of file sharing

File sharing is not risky in itself, but leaving file sharing unmanaged practically opens a Pandora’s box of risks. 

There may already be policies in place for file sharing in your organization, but chances are that your processes are still somewhat manual. You might have an IT manager in charge of reminding your employees to check their files. Or maybe you leave it up to the individual to manage their shares and permissions. 

Manual processes like this can work, if you are a smaller company. However, once you grow beyond a certain size the complexity of your file sharing will rise – and this is where you can run into problems.

From security vulnerabilities to employee data theft and privacy issues, the risks are wide ranging – read more about them in detail in this dedicated blog post. Common for all risks is the factor of human error. Let’s face it: most employees are concerned with creating business value and productivity, which doesn’t leave much time for reviewing shared files. So what’s the solution?

Manage your external collaboration  

To avoid falling victim to any of the risk scenarios, some companies choose to disable external file collaboration all together. This however, is a solution with limited mileage as the need for sharing information with customers and partners grows.

File sharing will find its way and ultimately employees will start bypassing any restrictions, for example by using personal accounts for business purposes. This leads to undesired shadow IT, which gives you no control of your files and a flawed overview of where your information is roaming. 

A much better option for you is to keep external collaboration enabled, but finding the best way to manage it. Most people will forget to unshare and clean up their files once they are through with collaborating, so you need to set up a great and manageable data governance policy to protect your organization‘s data in the best way. 

Tips for a good data governance policy

As a general rule of thumb, your data governance policy should be clear, concise, and easy to follow. This will help you implement the policy in your organization and get everyone onboard with your guidelines.

With that said: awareness around file sharing risks and data protection in general should be your first step. It is essential to educate your organization on the importance of managing shared files. Once everyone in your organization is educated on the risks, they are likely to be more mindful of file sharing and document management as a whole. 

Next up is creating a proper external sharing policy as part of your overall data governance strategy. The content of a sharing policy will vary depending on our organization’s needs, but it should always include your rules for how to handle various levels of sensitive information and how/when it is unshared. 

As with all good strategies, it takes people, processes, and tools to execute and enforce a good overall data governance strategy. Combine your rules with proper auditing and management tools, to help you with the implementation of your strategy. 

On top of all of this, good data governance covers both data quality, accessibility, and security. It may seem like a task to large to take on, but you can start today by tackling the points listed below as your first plan of action:

  • Educate your organization on the importance of data protection 
  • Enforce the principle of least privilege - data access is on a need-to-have basis, not a nice-to have basis
  • Make sure you categorize and label your data to ensure it’s handled properly according to its sensitivity level.
  • Create rules for handling and sharing data with different levels of sensitivity – HR data, Financial data, Health data, Intellectual Property (IP)
  • Create an incident response plan for data leaks and breaches and test it, regularly.
  • Learn from mistakes and refine your data governance strategy on an on-going basis

It requires dedicated work, but it will all be worth it in the end for your peace of mind – and for the safety of your organization. Once you have your policy in place, you can focus on auditing and refining the policy, if needed. It might seem like a lot of administrative work at first, but once your policy is implemented, it will ease not only the workload, but potential concerns you have about file sharing for external collaboration.

If you want to dive deeper into the topic of data governance, we have written an extensive ebook on the topic. Simply fill in your details below for access.