The Problem with Free File-Sharing Solutions

Nicholas J Price
6 min read
If you've ever sent a large electronic file and gotten an error message telling you that the file was too large to send, it probably left you with several questions. How large is too large? Can I send it in two or more parts? Is it too much of a hassle to do some trial and error? File-sharing platforms take the guesswork out of sending large files electronically. The platforms are designed to manage and send large amounts of data at one time.

Board directors have many occasions where they need to share large files electronically. Committee reports and board books are just a few examples of large files for boards. Once the concept of electronic file sharing was introduced, several apps were introduced into the market, and some of them are being offered for free. However, as with anything that comes for free, let the buyer beware.

How Does File Sharing Work?

In simple terms, file-sharing apps are software applications that have the capability to send large files to shared storage space in the cloud. The owner and sender of those files set up permissions for those who are allowed access to the files. Parties that have access to the files can collaborate on the information.

File-sharing platforms are usually designed with personal or business use in mind. Some of the more common free file-sharing solutions that you might be familiar with that were designed for personal use are Google and Dropbox. These file-sharing applications have some nice features. They're typically intuitive, user-friendly, and may come with other basic tools like syncing and cloud storage. While it may be tempting to use free or low-cost applications, it's unreasonable to conclude that free applications would have top-of-the-line security backed by certified IT specialists. The large files that you're sending will likely be at risk of lacking security, controls and other oversight features. Hackers and cybercriminals may be pulling up your confidential board business along with your peers.

Are Free File-Sharing Applications Secure?

Along with the advancements in technology, cybercrime has also advanced, often at a faster pace than cybersecurity efforts can keep pace with it. As more varieties of file-sharing apps have been introduced, each one has its own version of cybersecurity.

If you think about it, information technology security requires skilled expertise, and that never comes for free. File-sharing applications, especially those that are offered at no cost, are usually offered with little or no security. That may be fine if you're sending photos or videos of the grandchildren to their grandparents, but it won't offer the kind of protection that board directors need when sharing large files that contain confidential or sensitive information.

If even one of your board directors chooses to share information that way, it means that your board information could be subject to malware, hacking and loss of sensitive information. That also means that anytime someone uses the file-sharing app to share files between electronic devices, there's an additional risk of spreading viruses to other devices and systems. The cybersecurity risks can quickly outweigh the convenience and expediency of getting that large file sent.

Nearly all the information that board directors send and receive is sensitive in one way or another. That's the best reason to ensure that all board directors are using a file-sharing application that has the strongest possible security built right into the application.

How Prevalent Are File-Sharing Risks?

Just who is sharing files and how often are they doing it? Elastica conducted a survey in which they analyzed 100 million shared files on the leading public cloud applications and shared some eye-opening results on the site for Digital Guardian.

According to the survey, individuals are sharing high rates of sensitive and personal data across file-sharing applications. Results showed that the average employee stored over 2,000 files in the cloud. Of those files, approximately 20% of them contained some type of regulated data, such as personally identifiable information or personal health information. If this information gets into the wrong hands, it could easily be subject to a current or future HIPAA or other data breach law.

Much of this information was shared accidentally, rather than intentionally. In fact, about 80% of the file sharing didn't involve malicious intent at all. In a little better news, about 85% of the risks began with only 5% of users. Cybercriminals claimed responsibility for about 12% of the file-sharing incidents. Approximately 7% of the incidents could be traced to malicious acts that were perpetuated by employees within the company.

These statistics are particularly alarming for companies and organizations that handle large amounts of sensitive data on a regular basis. It should be concerning that neglecting to account for strong security in file sharing can have serious legal consequences for companies even when files haven't been shared intentionally and with malicious purposes in mind.

Despite the risks, file sharing is necessary to conduct business in the Information Age. Individuals and companies conduct numerous transactions daily for real estate, education, building permits, banking and other important dealings.

File sharing is necessary in many industries to promote efficiency and ease of doing business. Businesses need to take the business of cybersecurity seriously and ensure that the data they're sending is secure while it's in storage and as it's being sent from one point to another.

Secure File-Sharing Solutions

Part of the solution lies in training employees at every level about the dangers of using non-secure applications when transferring business files. Companies should have policies against sending personal or business information via non-approved electronic apps. The days of using personal email accounts to send that occasional or last-minute email are over because they simply don't protect company information.

Another simple solution along those lines is to establish a formal file-sharing policy that details the serious nature of risks that subject the company to cybercrime. While the advancements in technology have brought commercial evils, they also hold the potential for protective solutions.

Finally, the total solution for cybersecurity is a board management software solution by Diligent Corporation with state-of-the-art security, file-sharing capability and a secure workflow app built into the fully integrated platform. Diligent Boards and Governance Cloud offer granular controls and continuous monitoring to prohibit internal and external theft of data. The platform offers unlimited document storage, and it's the most efficient system for meeting management, automated workflows, secure communication and compliance.

Cyber-protection begins with employee training and good policies. With the addition of a secure file-sharing application that's totally contained within a highly secure platform, board directors can rest assured that the company won't have any of the problems associated with free file-sharing solutions.