document security

Share Documents Securely

Secure Document Sharing: How to Securely Share Sensitive Documents

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  Secure document sharing systems, software, technology, encryption & DRM

  Introduction to Secure Document Sharing

Document sharing forms a key part of businesses’ day-to-day activity.  For some, documents are a direct product, while others need them for accounting, contracts, and documentation.  Secure document sharing is essential for ensuring sensitive documents are not inappropriately accessed or shared.  However, if you want to share documents securely, you have to think beyond simple encryption (used to ensure that only the intended recipient(s) can open a protected document).  It is necessary to additionally control what can be done with the document content once a user has decrypted and opened it.  Organizations need to ask: is encryption or cloud-based access control enough to meet your secure document sharing needs, or do you need complete control over your own data?

The marketplace appears to offer a range of different products with different functionality and security features, which may appear to address your requirements.  We will examine them to see how appropriate they are.

  Secure Document Sharing platforms

When people think about secure document sharing, they usually think about specific online file sharing and/or collaboration service.  However, these platforms have various limitations, such as:

  • documents have to be uploaded to a supplier’s server, which is not under your control.
  • documents are generally viewed via a browser so there is limited screen grabbing prevention (if any) and limitations on the controls you can enforce.
  • printing to PDF or other file drivers is not prevented so users can save documents locally to disk if you allow printing.
  • users must always be online to view and print documents.
  • users can share their login credentials with others without being detected.
  • controls can be bypassed by users editing or disabling JavaScript in the browser.  A good example of this is Google Docs Security.
  • pricing is usually based on the number of user accounts and/or documents and can get expensive quite quickly.

Secure document sharing platforms such as Microsoft Azure Rights Management have mainly evolved from document collaboration systems, and often they have complex role-based permissions which are best suited to internal use.  Admins must define formal access control structures (i.e. there is no concept of selling the documents and controlling their actual use).

However, most of the documents you need to share securely have gone beyond the concepts of collaboration (i.e. distributing reports, finance info, formal board minutes, formal procedures etc.), and in certain countries where internet connections are poor, users still need to store and view files offline.

Most importantly, however, companies need to decide whether they want to store their files on someone else’s internet-accessible server.  A server that could experience outages or even be hacked and the documents extracted.  Even if a document sharing platform is right for you, it may be necessary to find a solution where you maintain control of the files and don’t ‘give’ them to the security provider.

  Share sensitive documents securely using encryption

Encrypting a document is fine if your objective is to secure the file at rest – i.e. you want to store documents securely either locally or in cloud storage.  It can also be useful in transit when you’re sending a file to another user by email etc. and want to be sure that anybody who intercepts the email will not be able to read it.

Document encryption, however, has its limits.  Once a file is decrypted, there are no access controls governing its use.  If you send an encrypted document to another user – because you only want them to be able to view it – there is nothing to prevent them from sending the decrypted document to anyone they choose.  In other words, it only provides protection if you trust the receiver completely.  This is especially important to keep in mind if you are selling documents such as reports, ebooks, etc., and want to make sure that only those that have paid for them can use them.  If you have confidential company information that must only be made available to specific employees, board members or third parties, being able to control usage is also key.

  Sharing documents securely using DRM security

Document DRM adds a complementary layer of security on top of document encryption.  With document DRM, files are encrypted to protect them in transit and at rest and then access and other controls are added to govern use.  Basic document DRM controls prevent copying and document modification, stop or limit printing, and stop screen grabbing by preventing print screen and the use of screen grabbing tools.

To prevent unauthorized document sharing, document DRM systems use licensing controls to tie users and their devices to specific documents.  This ensures the document owner can share documents securely amongst only intended recipients (unless of course, an authorized recipient is willing to give their tablet device, mobile phone, or laptop to someone else).  Many document DRM systems also provide dynamic document watermarking – user details are displayed on a document when it is viewed and printed to discourage photographs of the screen, or if printing is allowed, to discourage printed distribution.  Adding watermarks dynamically ensures the document only needs to be protected once rather than once for every single user.

More advanced document DRM systems enable documents to be shared securely in only authorized locations by limiting use to specific countries and IP address ranges.  This ensures that users using mobile devices cannot open secure documents say, outside an office location, or in countries where usage is forbidden due to regulations.

  Secure document sharing & expiry: sharing documents securely for limited time periods

Another advantage of using document DRM systems to share documents securely is the ability to automatically expire (and thus revoke) document use after a certain amount of time.  This could be after a number of views or prints, a number of days, or on a fixed date.  Ensuring information can no longer be viewed after a certain period is especially useful for M&A documents, where information is only required for a limited period or for documents that have a natural life span.  See PDF expiry.

Document DRM systems also provide the ability to revoke documents instantaneously no matter where they reside – if information has been published by mistake, access given to the wrong person, or a chargeback has been made, you can instantly recall it.

  Sharing documents securely with accountability – track & log document use

When sharing documents securely, it may be important to establish that an authorized user has viewed and/or printed a document – whether this is for legal/compliance reasons or to help identify leaks.  Document DRM systems can help here by tracking document use and providing log files detailing when documents were opened and printed, by whom and when this occurred.

  Conclusion: How to share documents securely

When sharing documents securely there are many issues that have to be considered.

  1. What kind of document control are you seeking to exert – internal use, internal and external, or purely external?
  2. Do you trust the recipients enough to know that they will not pass documents on?  How much control do you want over your files when dealing with untrusted parties?  Do you trust a Secure File Sharing company to protect and host your confidential or valuable documents on their servers?  Do users always have an Internet connection available; and how much security is enough?
  3. Do you need to log what users are doing?  Are you licensing the use of information content rather than sharing files at a peer-to-peer level?

For the simpler requirements, a collaboration system may offer enough controls – documents are in a constant state of flux.  As you transition to selling documents or the distribution of private documents to remote environments where bespoke security is required, DRM is essential to maintain document content protection.

Advantages of using Locklizard for secure document sharing

Locklizard has much better security features over secure data rooms & other document sharing systems

  • No Passwords

    Secure deal rooms, data rooms and other online ‘secure’ document sharing systems require users to enter a username and password.

    Login credentials, however, can be easily shared with others – so unauthorized users can log in and view your files

    With Locklizard document security, there are no passwords or codes for users to enter – keys are transparently and securely transferred to authorized devices, and locked to those devices so they cannot be shared.

  • No JavaScript

    Some secure document sharing systems use JavaScript to control document use.

    However, enforcing users to use JavaScript may leave you legally exposed.  All major security companies and Adobe recommend you disable JavaScript due to the fact it can put users’ computer systems at risk.  More information on these vulnerabilities can be found at PDF security issues.

    In addition, JavaScript can be edited in the browser or disabled to bypass security controls, so it provides at best, weak security.

  • No Plugins

    Plugins can put your protected PDF documents at risk – see Adobe PDF Security Plugins & Plug-in Vulnerabilities but they also provide many other problems.

    1. They require Windows Admin rights to install so offer no installation advantages over EXE files.
    2. They can conflict with other plugins.
    3. They can be overruled.  For example, anyone can write a plug-in for Adobe Acrobat Standard or Professional without obtaining an IKLA.
    4. They often stop working when the host application is updated.
  • Device locking

    Locklizard automatically locks document use to authorized users’ devices so they cannot be shared.  If a protected document is copied to an unauthorized device, it will not open.

    You can control the number of devices each user can view your protected documents on.

  • Location Locking

    Allow or prevent your documents from being opened in specific locations (e.g. the office) and countries.

    You can apply this at both the global and user level so you can stop all company employees from accessing documents from outside the office but enable a specific user to do so if they are traveling on business.

    You can securely share documents with clients and third parties knowing that they can only be accessed from certain locations.

    Locklizard automatically picks up the user’s location when they activate their license (and will automatically lock use to that location) so you don’t have to worry about entering this information.

  • Dynamic Watermarks

    If you want to allow printing then you can apply dynamic watermarks to discourage sharing of printed copies.

    You only have to secure documents once for all users rather than having to secure documents individually for each user in order to display unique user information (name, email, etc.).  User and system information is automatically inserted when the document is printed to identify the user.

  • DRM Controls

    Our document DRM controls help to prevent document sharing by controlling what users can do with your documents.

    1. Stop screen grabbing
    2. Stop printing or limit the number of prints
    3. Expire documents after a number of days use, views, prints, or on a fixed date
    4. Revoke documents instantly regardless of where they are located

    If you allow printing then we automatically prevent users from printing to file drivers (such as PDF file drivers) so your protected documents cannot be easily turned into unprotected documents.

  • Simple to use

    Our document security software is simple to use – secure documents by right-clicking on them in Windows Explorer.

    Create users and assign document access on our cloud-hosted admin system.

  • Secure Distribution

    • Secure documents on your local computer – no uploading of unprotected files to a server
    • Distribute protected documents just like any other file – upload them to a cloud server, your website, send by email or distribute on CD, USB, etc.
  • Cost Savings

    No charges per document or user – just one set price for unlimited documents and users.

How to securely share documents with Locklizard DRM security

Using Locklizard to share documents securely is quick and simple.

Admins protect a PDF file using Safeguard Writer and then add their intended recipients as users in their admin portal.  The system will automatically send them an email with the license file and a link to the Safeguard Reader application required to open the document.  The protected document can then be delivered however you like, as only authorized users can open it.

Here’s how to share a PDF document securely:
  1. Right-click on a PDF on your desktop and select ‘Make Secure PDF’.

    Creating a protected PDF file

  2. Select the copy protection controls you want to apply.  By default, editing, copying, and printing are disabled.
    locking pdfs

    Encrypting a PDF without passwords using Safeguard PDF DRM

  3. Press the Publish button to protect the PDF.
  4. Select the users you want to give access to your secured document using the cloud-based Admin System:

    Safeguard Admin System

  5.  Distribute your protected PDF document just like any other file.

For a more detailed look at the process, you can read our full guide on how to add security to a PDF.

Why use Locklizard to Share Documents Securely?

Locklizard Document Security – Secure document sharing without Plugins or Passwords

Locklizard takes your document protection seriously, enabling you to share sensitive documents securely no matter where they reside.  We provide total PDF document protection with US Gov strength AES encryption, public key technology, DRM, and licensing controls, to ensure your documents are always protected.

  • Our DRM PDF Security products enable you to share documents securely without insecure passwords or plug-ins, and enforce access, location, expiry, and usage controls.
  • Documents are locked to authorized users’ devices, so they cannot be shared with others – if a protected document is copied to an unauthorized device, it will not open.
  • You can lock document use to specific locations so that they can only be used, for example, in the office – this is great for controlling BYOD use.
  • Unlike Adobe Permissions, Secure Data Rooms, Google Docs Security, and Azure Rights Management, which can be easily removed, our DRM controls persistently protect your PDF files and enable you to revoke PDFs at any time regardless of where they are.
  • No keys are exposed to users or interfaces and documents are only ever decrypted in memory – see our DRM technology.
  • Our easy-to-use administration system provides simple user and document management and unlike passwords, keys are transparently and securely managed for you.

See our customer testimonials or read our case studies to see why thousands of organizations use Locklizard PDF security to securely share documents and PDF files.

FAQs

How can I share files securely with anyone?

A DRM solution like Locklizard Safeguard is the best way to securely share files with a variety of users.  This is because it not only protects documents in transit and at rest but also when they are being used.  With Locklizard Safeguard security, you can send the file to anybody and be sure that only authorized users will be able to open it and, crucially, they will not be able to share it with others once open.

How do I choose the best file sharing option for me?

You need to think about four factors:

  1. Is collaboration required?
  2. Do you need to protect documents during use, or only in transit and at rest?
  3. Do you need to monitor use?

The answer to these questions will define which solution is the best choice for you.

suitable for/protection offered during:
collaboration in transit + at rest during use monitoring
DRM ✖️ ✔️ ✔️ ✔️
Encryption ✖️ ✔️ ✖️ ✖️
Collaboration/file-sharing services ✔️ ✖️ ✔️
How do I share confidential documents securely?

A document DRM solution is the only way to share confidential documents securely as they are the only solution able to stop both internal and external users from sharing the files with others.  Other solutions either allow users to copy/print/screenshot, don’t lock documents to devices, and are unusable or cumbersome outside of an organization’s internal network.

What is the most secure file sharing site?

No file sharing platform is particularly secure as access to accounts is based on a username/password system.  Credentials, including two-factor authentication, can be either intentionally or unintentionally passed on to a third-party.

However, if you must use a cloud file sharing site or file-sharing platform, then use one that supports end-to-end encryption, such as pCloud or SpiderOak.  This will ensure that, should the provider’s servers be hacked, your documents will be safe.

Is Dropbox a secure way to share files?

No. Dropbox files are encrypted at rest, but the service still uses passwords, which can be intentionally or unintentionally shared with others, and its documents can be screenshotted and shared.

How secure is Google Drive documents share?

Even less secure than Dropbox.  You can easily bypass Google Drive’s copying, print, and watermarking protections by disabling JavaScript in the browser.  For more information, see How Secure is Gmail Confidential mode and Google Secure Document Sharing.

Is password protection adequate for sharing sensitive information securely?

Password protection can have limited uses if you use a strong password and trust that the receiver will not pass the decrypted document on.  Passwords that are used for logins can be shared with others, and password protected permissions or restrictions (such as those used by Adobe) can be easily removed.

In general, password based systems provide weak security and require additional management overheads (secure password distribution, resending forgotten passwords, maintainting a list of passwords for documents, etc.).  If you want to securely and privately send files between clients then using passwords is best avoided.

Can I set an expiration date for secure file sharing?

Yes, using Locklizard Safeguard you can set an expiry date, which when reached, will make the PDF file inaccessible.  Be wary of file-sharing solutions that use JavaScript to enforce expiry since disabling JavaScript can bypass the controls.

What is the best way to securely share documents via email?

It’s best to encrypt your documents before sending them as attachments via email, preferably using a DRM solution.  This will ensure the document remains protected and unshareable after the user has received it.

Which is better, cloud-based or on-premise software for sharing documents securely?

It depends on your needs and how sensitive or confidential your documents are.  Most cloud-sharing systems require you to upload unprotected documents to a file server where they are then encrypted.  It is possible they could be compromized during decryption when temporary files are made.  They also generally require users to be always online.  On-premise software ensures you are in complete control of your files at all times and offline use can easily be accommodated.

Locklizard enables you to host your documents in the cloud or on-premise.  Documents are protected locally on your computer so they are never exposed unprotected on a cloud server.

What solution is best for secure protected document sharing?

The best way to securely share documents is by using a solution that can enforce DRM controls in a secure Reader or Viewer application both online and offline.

In summary:

  1. Any online system will provide weak security since it has to rely on JavaScript for protection which can be easily bypassed or disabled.
  2. Any system that uses passwords is equally flawed since users can share or crack passwords.
  3. Secure Document sharing systems that rely on plugins can be easily circumvented or fail to work after the application they plug into is updated.

A secure document sharing platform must use both encryption and DRM controls to prevent unauthorized access and use.  Locklizard enable businesses to share documents securely with clients and customers in a secure environment (viewer application).  DRM controls are enforced both online and offline and documents are protected from copying, editing, sharing, screen grabs, and printing.  Documents can be set to automatically expire, be instantly revoked regardless of their location, and document opens and prints can be tracked.

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