Documents containing confidential and sensitive information are critical business assets for companies of all sizes in every industry. The consequences of documents being lost or stolen are potentially catastrophic. To complicate matters the number of documents created by companies increases every year, they are produced by departments throughout a company, and some companies manage confidential documents on behalf of partners and clients. Keeping these assets safe is critical to a company’s long-term success. It is little wonder that document security is a top corporate priority and, in some industries, it is a regulatory requirement.
The challenges of document security
Document security is a major corporate challenge. The high volume of documents companies handle increases the risk of data leak and security breach through human error and theft, leading potentially to serious reputational, legal, and financial damage.
The key challenges revolve around secure storage and distribution of documents. Complications can arise when both paper and digital documents are kept because each have their own security considerations. Documents are now mostly produced digitally but many companies retain an archive of paper documents which are often rarely looked at but kept for legal or auditing purposes.
Paper documents are particularly vulnerable to being misfiled, lost, or destroyed by fire, water damage, and environmental deterioration. Duplicating paper documents increases the risk of them being lost or stolen. The distribution of confidential documents by post or courier carries the danger of their not reaching the intended recipient.
Digital technology provides highly effective tools to protect digitally produced documents, but the risk of data breach caused by human error and cybercrime is a real threat. Risks are exacerbated if confidential documents are distributed by insecure methods: emails can be sent to the wrong recipient or address and attachments are not usually encrypted; and generic file sharing systems, built for personal and commercial use, don’t normally have the security competencies for a company’s confidential information.
Weak operational and security systems foster poor practices and leave the company vulnerable to malicious activity. It is imperative that companies put in place effective procedures to keep their documents secure. Here we look at some of the best practices companies can adopt.
Document security best practices
Data protection policy: A data protection policy that meets the company’s precise requirements and complies with GDPR and the Data Protection Act, is the basis for document security. The policy should detail the company’s procedures for securely storing, accessing, distributing, and disposing of digital and paper documents and cover every area of the company. The policy must be made accessible to all employees, including new entrants, and be reviewed periodically to ensure its continued legal compliance and fitness-for-purpose. Updates should be disseminated to all employees.
Include a non-disclosure clause in employment contracts: Having employees sign a confidentiality and non-disclosure agreement (NDA) helps to protect the company’s sensitive business information. The NDA makes employees aware of their responsibility for not sharing or distributing confidential information without authorisation. It clarifies legal and practical standpoints and shows the company is serious about protecting its assets.
Storage: Paper documents should be stored in fire and waterproof cabinets that are locked when not in use. Documents should be routinely backed-up in case original copies are misplaced. Backed-up copies and digital documents should be stored on secure servers with strict access control and strong passwords.
Distribution: The risk of digital documents being sent to unintended recipients can be avoided by using a secure online platform to share documents with authorised users. Granular permissions-based access and multiple other security protocols, which we will look at below, protect documents from unauthorised viewing.
Delete documents that are no longer needed: Securely destroying unneeded and expired documents maintains the integrity of storage systems and reduces the risk of human error in managing the increasing volume of documents handled by the company.
Digitise paper documents: Digitising paper documents removes the problems of physical storage capacity and manually filing and distributing documents. Digital documents are easy to organise and manage on a secure online platform which will also provide multiple tools and processes to protect documents.
Control who has access to confidential documents: Controlling access to confidential information is crucial. Granting permission to authorised individuals to view specific documents on a need-only basis is an effective way of preventing data breach and misuse of documents. Permissions that restrict access on a folder, file, or document level are easy to set up and manage on a digital platform.
Document tracking: Monitoring who has accessed documents, which documents they looked at and for how long is a key security measure, especially if documents are shared with external parties such as partners, auditors, customers, and investors. Digital documents can be tracked in real time and the information captured for reporting purposes.
Audit trail: The ability to identify who has read, downloaded, shared, and modified documents, with a record of the modifications, is vital for document integrity and security. In some industries, such as financial services, retaining an audit trail is necessary to comply with regulations.
Watermarking: Adding a watermark to shared documents signals ownership and confidentiality. It also serves as a warning to be careful about how, where and with whom the document is shared.
Document Encryption: Digital data should be encrypted, in transit and at rest, to prevent unauthorised viewing even if the document falls into the wrong hands.
Document security requires considerable consideration and expertise that may be beyond the resources of many companies. Fortunately, there are third-party solutions that companies can turn to. Companies with large amounts of paper documents can contract off-site storage specialists. As companies increasingly seek a digital storage and distribution solution, they too are turning to specialist providers rather than investing themselves. Many companies are utilising the high-level security capabilities of a Virtual Data Room.
The ready-made digital solution
A Virtual Data Room has document security best practices built into its multiple advanced protection mechanisms: granular permissions protocols, document tracking, audit trail and version history, data encryption, two-factor authentication, watermarking, and the prevention of copying, downloading, printing and forwarding of documents without permission. A top-of-the-range Data Room guarantees protection from threats posed by hackers, viruses and third parties by compliance with international standards such as ISO27001.
Any amount of information can be stored in a Data Room thereby providing a future-proof solution. Documents can be efficiently organised and managed to reduce the risk of human error and ensure information is found quickly and easily. Authorised users can access documents remotely whenever they need to. Using a Data Room is a prerequisite for a range of important corporate activities such as M&As.
If you would like to see how Perivan’s Data Room, Engage, can help you with your document security needs, please contact the Perivan team to arrange a short demo and answer your questions.