Security, especially in the digital realm, is a significant concern for every business today. High-profile stories about data breaches and the loss of sensitive personal information or important business materials aren't uncommon. Yet, while many businesses invest in diverse solutions from firewalls to anti-social engineering training, a key element often remains overlooked — document security.
Why document security matters
There are many industries in which the safeguarding of sensitive information is paramount. These include the legal sector, healthcare, education, banking and even government. With records on customers and clients, individuals and other businesses, there’s considerable potential for abuse should the information fall into the wrong hands. When files remain unsecured, exposing private information could be as easy as copying and opening a file.
Likewise, not every employee in a business should have access to all the information it produces. In some cases, you may need to conceal details about an upcoming product or service offering to prevent staff from sharing the information outside appropriate company channels. Pay records, financial details and other such private information must also stay out of the hands of the unauthorised. Appropriate strategies for addressing these needs are, therefore, an essential element for any business.
Paperless offices have more security options
Instituting a simple system for controlling records and internal company paperwork is the first step to implementing stronger document security. While eliminating the hard copy isn’t always feasible, it’s easy to work towards a 'paperless' office. Not only does such a switch save money on office supplies, but it provides advantages for security, too:
- There are many more ways to secure digital files than there are ways to protect physical paperwork. Loss of the original hard copy is also less of a concern.
- It's easier to change digital documents as needed. Quick manipulation empowers faster, more efficient workflows.
- With digital certificates, it's possible to verify the integrity of a file as an original, providing more versatility.
Tap into these benefits by investing time into digitising your files with OCR-enabled scanning technologies capturing the document itself, not merely an image.
Develop a security classification system
Just as you wouldn't use one key to secure every door across an entire office building, you shouldn't use the same security settings for every document. In fact, some of your digital files may not need any exceptional protection at all — but you'll need to make that determination carefully.
- Create a series of security tiers from 'documents accessible to all' to those available only to specified employees. For instance, memos on procedures and guidelines might be unsecured for all employees, while only Human Resources staff may see personnel files.
- Use a combination of tools to restrict access. These include applying protections to the documents themselves, and using digital content management systems requiring passwords for access to secure file systems.
- Periodically review document classifications to ensure proper filing. Mis-filing can compromise the integrity of your security efforts.
Why encryption is essential
Classifying documents and separating them into different tiers only works if you have a way to differentiate security levels from one another. Encryption is a broad term that can encompass a range of solutions, including password-based security as well as key and certificate-based cryptography. Using a combination of these tools, along with operating system-level access controls, gives your security setup the teeth it needs to keep out the unwanted viewer. It's advisable to keep a few best practices in mind here:
- Use strong and unique passwords shared only with those authorized to view files. Consider the potential benefits of using an enterprise password manager.
- Learn how public key cryptography works and consider employing it on sensitive internal and external communications, including conversations with clients. Enable others to verify the authenticity of your message.
- Rely on industry standards, including AES-256, for the strongest encryption possible.
Back everything up
All the efforts to implement good security practices won't mean much if your entire data infrastructure goes up in smoke. Fire, flood, hardware failure and even ransomware all pose serious risks for the integrity of a company's data. Any business continuity plan should include secure backup efforts. As part of efforts to improve document handling and retention, businesses should keep the following considerations in mind:
- Routinely back up the most critical documents and databases your business uses to a secure storage location. On-site backups are acceptable, but some off-site storage — whether a cloud service or a third-party host — is ideal as well.
- Thoroughly encrypt all backups. Consider using archive file formats to combine multiple data sets into one locked-down cache.
- Put backups on an automated schedule where possible, and routinely update passwords. Updating ensures you neither forget how to access the backups nor run the risk of allowing an intruder to use outdated information.
From preventing unauthorized employee access to sensitive data to protecting important documents in the cloud, good document security processes are essential for practically every business today. With the appropriate setup, such processes become second nature and a natural part of everyday operations. With changing legislation surrounding data privacy, now is the ideal time to step back and re-assess the way your business handles documents daily.
About the Author
Ben Liu is the Director of eCommerce at Kofax, with many years of experience in innovative marketing. Kofax is a software company specialising in document management and process automation tools. Built for business, these tools aim to enable individuals and SME users to do more with every workday.