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INDUSTRY INSIGHT

Considerations for file sharing among federal agencies

Federal agencies, like the Department of Defense, have an ongoing need to  quickly and securely share data, often of a sensitive nature, among those within the same department or agency, across other agencies and even externally with non-agency users. Federal file sharing is filled with rules, which comes as no surprise as the information agencies share is of the highest priority. What may be surprising is that file sharing can be hindered by legacy solutions that are not secure, fast or flexible enough to meet today’s workplace demands.

Let’s examine some traditional file sharing methods, examine what is missing and consider some alternative approaches to file sharing.

Legacy file sharing approaches

SharePoint has been the traditional go-to file sharing system because of how it easily integrates with Microsoft Office and for its support of central storage. Some agencies found Sharepoint too expensive an option as their teams grew because of the licensing structure. Additionally, SharePoint is not as agile as more-modern, access-anywhere alternatives needed for today’s user on the go.

Web-based file transfer tools were a feasible file sharing solution and worked for a while, but these tools are not user friendly in large organizations requiring military-grade security. Additionally, the protocol used to transfer large files, UDP, does not guarantee that all packets will arrive, making it an unreliable method and ultimately a non-starter.

If it were up to users, many would simply just want to attach files to their emails, but the limitations here are clear.  Email attachments are stranded and provide no central place to retrieve files. Large files cannot be reliably sent due to file-size caps, while files over 5 MB and some file types, such as .exe, are refused by many mail servers.

Legacy network attached storage is a dependable file storage method, but is not ideal for file sharing, as it does not support multisite collaboration.  Instead, data becomes siloed -- the silent killer of organizational productivity. NAS can also be cost-prohibitive to sustain as data volume grows exponentially.

Finally, agencies can utilize virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI), but this method is not always reliable, and secure access to key systems from remote locations cannot be guaranteed by  federal agencies.

File sharing checklist for federal agencies

Many agencies still need a simple yet secure means to securely transfer, collaborate and store files across globally distributed and sometimes geographically remote locations. The solution must be easy to deploy, manage and use, with always-on reliability and uptime.

To accomplish this, federal IT professionals should look for:

Reliable, efficient data transfer and sharing. Look for a cyber-hardened platform that supports modern content collaboration. Take a look at how the solution enables efficient data transfer in the face of high-latency, low-bandwidth environments by using the variety of WAN-optimization and sync technologies available today.

The highest levels of security. Most modern file transfer and sharing solutions cannot meet the requirements of sensitive federal workloads. That’s why agencies are seeking solutions that are FIPS 140-2 validated to ensure the highest levels of data encryption. Federal organizations should also insist on multifactor client-side authentication using PKI certificates and smart cards.  This ensures that files are not accessed accidentally or improperly or collaborated on by non-permitted users.

DISA-hosted compatibility provides assurance that users of Defense Information Systems Agency's  milCloud have the most secure, resilient and flexible method to access their data at any time anywhere, and on any device.

Support for VDI  enables high-performance and resilient file experiences for remote users. The solution should work with satellite communications and emerging technologies like 5G.

Looking ahead

The goal for government agencies should be a solution that enables secure and modern file transfer across any number of distributed locations and users. Federal agencies understand the stakes and are in the process of on-boarding these on-premises file services platforms that deliver the same resiliency, productivity and elasticity as cloud-based file services, while meeting stringent military-grade data security requirements.

About the Author

Saimon Michelson is chief architect for the Americas at CTERA.

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