When we were all at the office, many of us were connected to the office network. We didn’t need to give sharing files much thought. But now that we’re scattered across the landscape, securely sharing important files can take careful planning. Here’s why you might want to use powerful file-sharing services to share sensitive files safely, so you can collaborate better no matter where you’re working.
Probably the easiest way to share a file is to just attach a document to an email, or to a Slack or other instant message. But either way invites trouble on several fronts. If you rely too much on your email or messaging system, your poorly archived files could become available to prying hackers with phishing lures. If you’re sharing traditional documents that way, you could also quickly find yourself playing the “who has the most current version” game. It’s hard to keep track of updates when multiple people are working on the same document, spreadsheet, or presentation.
While built-in collaboration tools like Google Workspace or Microsoft OneDrive (or something equivalent based on your email identity) can solve the version control problem — and might be your only option if your company insists — they can become cumbersome the moment your team expands beyond your office domain. You might inadvertently share the document with people who shouldn’t see it, or lock someone out who needs access. The more convoluted you make your sharing situation, the greater the potential for a mistake where the world (or perhaps family members) gain access to your files. We’ve all seen the news stories where a database or collection of documents fell into the wrong hands because someone failed to apply the appropriate security. Some companies won’t risk it: With one of my clients, I had to get a new email address on their domain to share their Google Docs.
Besides Google Workspace and OneDrive, there are more than a dozen different providers of personal file-sharing services, including Dropbox, Box, and Apple’s iCloud. Many of these are free or nearly so for minimal use. But if you are contemplating these services, everyone in your sharing circle should use two-factor authentication (such as Authy) to access them, not just a username and password. Even so, they’re often second-rate when it comes to user experience (Dropbox’s collaboration features can be confusing, iCloud and Windows have a complicated relationship, and Box’s file preview feature doesn’t do such a great job). They’re adequate for single-use sharing or sharing files across your own devices, but they’re not my preferred solution.
Instead, you should consider an enterprise-grade cloud-based file-sharing service, one that adds more layers of protection by encrypting your data, and that has fine-tuned access control. Egnyte, SecureDocs, ShareFile, and SugarSync are just a few of the more popular services; here’s a chart with a rough comparison of how much they cost and what they offer to start:
Popular secure file-sharing services compared
|Max. file upload
|Free trial period
|Max. file upload
|Free trial period
|$250 for unlimited users
|$50 for unlimited users
|$55 for 3 users
|300 GB for web clients
Regardless of which one you pick, here’s what you should look for when researching a secure file-sharing service:
- Automatic file sync for all users on all devices, including integration with Windows Explorer and MacOS’s Finder, so you can browse shared directories and keep local copies for quick access.
- Support for Android, iOS, and web clients to browse shared directories and folders on the go as well.
- End-to-end encryption. If someone manages to download your files without your login, they shouldn’t be able to do anything with them. ShareFile also has an Outlook plug-in that encrypts your files as an extra feature.
- Additional login security. SecureDocs requires additional authentication by default for all of its logins, while the others I mention have it as an option. Setting this up is as simple as scanning a QR code into a smartphone app, as shown below:
- Easy-to-disable public sharing options, or that they make it difficult to inadvertently choose to share publicly.
- Customizable permissions and access rights to ensure that the right people are sharing the right file collections. Egnyte, for example, has numerous controls to add a password to your file, allow or disable downloads, and notifications, as you can see in the screenshot below:
- Audit trails to figure out and fix when someone accidentally shares a file with the entire internet, or so you can quickly remove a shared file if it is no longer needed.
Many of these products have free trials (of the ones I mention above, all but SugarSync don’t require any payment details), and you can use those periods to evaluate them. Asking yourself these questions should also help you pick:
- Do you routinely share very large files, such as videos or illustrated PowerPoint documents? Some services place limits on individual files; SugarSync, for instance, has a limit on web client upload size.
- What other software tools work with the file-sharing service? Some (such as Egnyte) integrate with Salesforce, Google Workspace, and Slack, which makes sharing files easier to use as part of your normal workflows. Check the fine print if this is important to you.
- Do you need a room? Some services offer a common shared “data room” that can be the cloud equivalent of a shared network file server. ShareFile and SecureDocs both offer unlimited space for their shared rooms. Others, such as Egnyte, cap the room at 1TB, which is still a lot of storage if you’re not a video producer.
- What other specialized services do you need? Some services integrate with e-signature apps (ShareFile works with Citrix’s RightSignature), allow for custom workflows (like document approvals) and other tasks that can be real time-savers in a corporate environment.
Using any enterprise sharing service will take some adjustment, but I feel they are worth the effort to gain additional peace of mind, better security, and collaborative features.