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5 ways to strengthen internal document management

Even the most protected organizations aren’t safe from cyberattacks. In 2014, the federal government suffered a series of high-profile security breaches at the U.S. Investigations Services and the Postal Service, resulting in the loss of millions of files containing Social Security numbers and bank account information. These online attacks continued in 2015, when the Office of Personnel Management discovered hackers had stolen the personnel files of more than 20 million current and former government employees.

As more public sector organizations shift to digital workflows, data breaches will become a matter of when, not if. While most experts agree stronger security measures are needed to combat data breaches, poor end-user habits leave doors everywhere -- from the White House to local agencies -- wide open for intruders to exploit.

More often than not, weak internal document security processes are the culprit for cybersecurity incidents. A 2016 Ponemon study found three-quarters of organizations reported experiencing data loss or theft in the past two years, a marked increase from 67 percent in 2014. As tasks continue to move online and into the cloud, the document-bound public sector struggles to streamline internal workflows and protect sensitive information. The security stakes creep higher, and agencies must update their existing document management policies and tools to effectively balance security and productivity.

Hackers are notorious for attacking organizations that contain sensitive information, making government agencies a prime target. But there are several steps agencies can take to bolster their data security. After the 2015 data breach, for example, OPM introduced two-factor authentication and prohibited employees from accessing personal email accounts on office computers. Requiring employees to confirm their identity twice before accessing work documents is a simple step that reduces identity theft and makes it more difficult for hackers to phish via email.

IT departments must also consider end users’ daily habits to be sure security protocols do not interrupt employee workflows.

Public-sector agencies looking to improve their document management strategies can start by implementing these five tips today:

1. Use a digital watermark. Just like its traditional counterpart, a digital watermark can signal the audience about the content’s rightful owner. These watermarks can’t be altered or removed, and they can be used by the original owner to track and monitor document use. Digital watermarks are robust, providing an additional layer of defense against illegal document handling and making it easier to detect anomalous document sharing or tampering.

2. Consistently train teams on security. Recent Accusoft research shows that while a majority (92 percent) of organizations have document management policies in place, 43 percent of IT managers feel employees don’t always comply with procedures. Document management policies are ineffective if employees are only vaguely aware of security procedures, so teams must be trained on how to properly access and share documents with approved tools. Raising awareness of available document tools also eliminates the risk of shadow IT, which poses additional problems for IT departments trying to track the flow of documents in and out of an agency.

3. Integrate HTML5 security. Approximately half of employees report downloading six to 10 documents on an average workday. To mitigate the risk of end users downloading infected PDFs, organizations should consider implementing an HTML5 document viewer. This type of solution gives employees the protection they need to view, redact and annotate documents safely, regardless of device. Developers can embed HTML5 document viewers directly into their own websites and intranets so employees can download documents without installing additional plugins or applications.

4. Shore up BYOD policies. Seventy-four percent of organizations currently have some form of bring-your-own-device policy, but only half require employees to have their mobile devices approved by the IT department. This creates accountability and visibility problems for IT departments, especially given how many employees check email and access documents from their personal smartphones, tablets and laptops. Steps like authenticating mobile devices with SSL certificates makes it more difficult for hackers to infiltrate an employee’s personal hardware, providing an extra layer of protection.

5. Centralize document collaboration. Almost one-quarter of employees report frequently working with and downloading multiple copies of a single document, creating a version-history nightmare and making it harder to keep track of each copy. Adopting a centralized file-management solution can increase the IT departments’ control over document sharing while improving employee collaboration and productivity. Agencies with a formal document control solution are also more likely to have automatic alerts set up for when employees share files externally.

Public-sector organizations can’t afford to lose billions of dollars -- let alone risk national security --  because of poor document management protocols. As the world continues to move online, agencies that can streamline and secure their internal document management processes are one step closer toward protecting their assets (and constituents) against the threat of hackers.

About the Author

Tom Setzer is software product director at Accusoft.

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