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The collaborative environment balancing act: Search and security

Years ago, office storage used to consist of file cabinets where all memos, reports and other documents were stored. If you needed something, you’d open a drawer arranged alphabetically or by date and find your document.

But with half of businesses having between two and five different locations, more companies are relying on cloud storage (Office 365, OneDrive, Dropbox, etc.), email and mobile devices to enable a mobile environment and easily share work. There are many benefits to this, but there are also negatives as enterprises lose the ability to properly track, share and secure documents across these cloud-based tools.

How many times have we said to ourselves or a coworker, “I need the memo Joe sent last week on the 2Q numbers? Now, is it still in my email? Did I file it in Dropbox from my mobile device? A desktop file?” Using cloud based tools to store your files is useful for sharing and facilitating workflow among multiple employees, but they can leave you on a never-ending search for the right document. There might be a need for multiple searches across devices and applications.

Cloud storage tools also bring in to question security as you share your files across multiple platforms. What happens when you share a document from your mobile device with someone, ignoring the strict corporate regulations on who has access to it? Using these tools means you have to worry about opening up company information to security leaks as corporate users combine their company’s clouds with their own devices and personal cloud services. Conversely, to protect against sharing, people are often forced to follow such strict security rules to avoid this that they end up having to jump through hoops to answer 10 security questions to even access their documents.

For example, say an art teacher is working on a project with her class where each student creates a sculpture that will be submitted into a city-wide contest. The teacher requires each student to create and email her a thumbnail photo of their art, alongside their name, address and date of birth so that she can collate them in her Dropbox. If this file is compromised, private information about students is at risk. So, how does the teacher ensure the files are both easily accessible to facilitate her workflow during the submission process and secured to protect student privacy?

One thing is clear, cloud storage tools make sharing files easier and users want this simplicity. But, as good as these services are, they’ve been designed purely for consumer use and not to keep an organisation’s information and customer details secure and accessible. Therefore, there needs to be a balance between the ability to search for your information across multiple platforms and having appropriate levels of security regulations on it.

To make search productive, all documents need to be indexed and searches need to return only the most appropriate documents without interrupting workflow so you can easily find what you are looking for, even if it is across multiple platforms. At the same time, fast and unfettered search must be balanced with security measures to protect privacy in a collaborative environment. In this type of environment, the best line of defense is document-level encryption complementing the existing firewalls and mobile device management solutions that are already in place.

This means data and files can be transported and stored to and from the cloud already encrypted to AES 256 standards and can be securely accessed from any authorised mobile or static device, with dynamically assembled keys. Therefore, all content at rest and in transit between the cloud storage and a user’s device stays secure, no matter where it is stored.

The complexities and overhead of using cloud-based storage tools are often overlooked for their ease of use and how they facilitate workflow.

Striking the balance between accessibility and security using indexed search and document-level encryption can help break down some of the risks and never-ending file search associated with using cloud-based storage tools, while still giving users the additional functionality they crave to find their information with extra security measures.

Simon Bain, CEO and developer of the core technology for SearchYourCloud (opens in new tab)

Simon Bain is a recognized leader in the IT industry for over 20 years. He is best known for developing innovative security and search applications. He holds four patents with six pending on search and security.