protection of sensitive documents

Since the home working boom, the secure sharing and protection of sensitive documents has become paramount. Online document-sharing platforms, such as Secure Data Rooms or virtual data rooms (VDRs), have emerged to fulfill this need.  While these platforms aim to provide robust document protection, several factors can weaken their security measures. Here we cover the challenges faced by such platforms and explore potential solutions to enhance document protection. Addressing these concerns is vital for individuals and organizations who rely on online platforms to safeguard their confidential documents and information.

Weak Encryption and Its Implications

Encryption forms the foundation of secure document sharing. However, some platforms may employ weak encryption algorithms or omit encryption altogether, leaving documents vulnerable to unauthorized access. This issue can be addressed by implementing strong encryption standards, such as AES-256, coupled with proper key management protocols. Regular audits and third-party assessments of encryption practices can ensure adherence to industry best practices, strengthening document protection. 

A digital rights management (DRM) system, using a secret key, encrypts content to make it unwatchable so that only somebody who has the key can decrypt and watch it. But that key, like all digital information, is easy to copy and share so on its own it is not sufficient to protect the content. digital rights management

Key Management

 The problem with most secure data rooms is that they use passwords for user logins and authorized users can easily share this information with unauthorized users.  You therefore have no real idea of who is actually viewing your confidential documents, only that a particular username/password has been used to access it.

Enhancing User Access Controls

 Weak or inadequate user access controls can undermine document protection. Implementing granular access controls based on user roles and responsibilities ensures that only authorized individuals can access and modify documents. Multi-factor authentication (MFA) should be enforced to add an extra layer of security. Additionally, regular access reviews, automated account lockouts, and session timeouts contribute to a more secure environment.

Browser security

Unfortunately, nothing much can be done to strengthen browser security since users are in control of it.  JavaScript is used by secure data room systems to control printing, downloading, editing, etc., but users can edit this in the browser or disable JavaScript to prevent execution.  So regardless of the encryption used, login security, etc. you have to be able to trust users not to bypass security controls.  If users can copy and paste content into other apps then audit trails become totally useless.

Software Vulnerabilities and Patch Management

Online platforms can fall victim to security breaches if they fail to promptly address software vulnerabilities. Regular software updates and patches are crucial to fixing security flaws and preventing exploitation by hackers. By maintaining a dedicated security team and establishing robust patch management processes, platforms can significantly reduce the risk of unauthorized access to sensitive documents. 

Mitigating Human Error and Negligence

Human error and negligence remain significant challenges in document protection. Educating users about security best practices, such as verifying recipients before sharing documents, is crucial. User awareness programs, simulated phishing exercises, and continuous training can help foster a security-conscious culture. Implementing document versioning and audit trails enables quick identification and rectification of accidental data leaks or unauthorized modifications. 

Countering Social Engineering Attacks

Online platforms can be vulnerable to social engineering attacks, which can bypass traditional security measures. Raising awareness among users about common social engineering tactics, such as PDF link sharing phishing, and pretexting, is essential. Implementing strict protocols for verifying requests for sensitive information and adopting security controls, like strict access controls for administrative functions, can reduce the risk of successful social engineering attacks. 

Robust Auditing and Monitoring

Effective auditing and monitoring mechanisms are vital for identifying and responding to security incidents promptly. Platforms should implement real-time monitoring, intrusion detection systems, and security information and event management (SIEM) solutions. Detailed logs of user activities and document access provide insights into potential security breaches, enabling swift action to mitigate risks. 

The protection of sensitive documents in online sharing platforms is a complex challenge. By addressing weaknesses in encryption and key management, software vulnerabilities, user access controls, human error, social engineering attacks, and implementing robust auditing and monitoring, these platforms can significantly enhance document protection. Continued vigilance, technological advancements, and user education will help keep pace with evolving threats and ensure the secure exchange of documents in the digital era.

While secure sharing of documents online using a data room is convenient, businesses have to consider that the environment is not under their control and that their data may be at risk.  For companies requiring more stringent document protection, DRM systems that provide installed apps are the only way forward.  You do not have to expose your confidential and sensitive documents in the cloud to unknown parties, and you can control what users get to view them.