Dangers of file sharing


Tough job: Tan says online file sharing is becoming more common.

REGARDLESS of industry, businesses around the world today are dependent on the availability, interaction, and dissemination of information.

According to research company IDC, the volume of digital content is expected to grow to 2.7 zettabytes (ZB) this year.

That is a 48% percent increase from 2011 and in adapting to the demands of the sheer increase in volume, companies, particularly small and medium-sized business (SMBs), are turning to services such as online file sharing.

Nigel Tan, Symantec Asia South region principal consultant, said a 2011 survey of SMB file sharing showed that online file sharing has become increasingly common as a business practice.

Tan added that because of this, SMBs are more at risk than ever before.

The survey showed that SMB employees are adopting unmanaged, personal-use online file sharing solutions without permission from IT departments.

This is part of a broader trend of the consumerisation of IT where the adoption of online services for use on personal mobile devices blurs the line between work and recreation.

These early-adopter behaviours — like those driving the use of file sharing technology — are making organisations vulnerable to security threats and potential data loss.

Unmonitored usage of such personal solutions presents high risk to SMBs, as a staggering 71% of small businesses that suffer from a cyber attack never recover.

As the fastest adopters of cloud technologies, such as file sharing, SMBs need to use safe practices, especially when using a solution that might not be built for businesses.

As employees increasingly adopt consumer cloud services at work, the risk to SMBs only grows.

Here are some highlights from the survey:

*Employees influence adoption of file sharing solutions internally.

SMB stakeholders recognise that file sharing helps drive productivity among employees. 74% of respondents said they adopted online file sharing to bolster their own productivity.

Also, 61% of respondents reported employees to be somewhat-to-extremely influential when it comes to adopting file sharing solutions internally, on par with mobile device usage (63%), PC/laptop/tablet usage (64%) and social media usage (53%);

*Security and data loss are potential file sharing risks.

Many respondents recognised the potential risks that poorly managed file sharing practices can bring into their organisations.

Among respondents, risks cited as potential concerns included sharing confidential information using unapproved solutions (44%), malware (44%), loss of confidential or proprietary information (43%), breach of confidential information (41%), embarrassment or damage to brand/reputation (37%), and violating regulatory rules (34%).

Moreover, the lack of policy enforcement also enhances risks for many respondents as more than one-fifth (22%) of respondents have not implemented policies restricting how employees can access and share files;

*File sharing behaviours could expose SMBs to risk.

Employee behaviour around file sharing indicates further potential for security risk. When asked what employees might do when they need to share a large file, respondents indicated they would either ask IT for help (51%), use a solution suggested by a customer, contractor or partner (42%), utilise the IT system in place (33%), or search online and download a free solution (27%).

Furthermore, 41% indicated damaged brand reputation was a concern when it comes to file sharing;

*Files are getting bigger.

Many of the files shared internally and externally are significantly increasing in size. One in seven (14%) respondents reported the average size of files currently shared by their organisation to be more than 1 GB while three years ago, only 6% reported the average file size to be more than 1 GB; and

*SMBs are more distributed.

Respondents indicated the number of employees working remotely and/or from home has gradually increased over the past three years, and the number is projected to increase.

Respondents predicted that one year from now 37% of SMB organisations will have employees working remotely (up 22% from three years ago and 32% today), and 32% will have employees who work from home (up 20% from three years ago, and 28% today).

Tan said Symantec recommends that SMBs implement some practises to help ensure employees share files securely, such as: Centralising file storage and management with a secure web-based system that is accessible regardless of device or location so that companies protect data outside the office walls; implementing access controls and permissions to keep private files safe and separate from work content; maintaining oversight into how and when business files are shared; and implementing a scalable system that can grow with the business.

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