Different Types of Secure Document Sharing

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Answered by: Frank, An Expert in the Information Security Category
Sharing documents with others has always been relatively easy, but it hasn't always been secure. Fortunately, unassailable document sharing is possible—but one size doesn't necessarily fit all. When is a do-it-yourself option such as Google Drive a good choice? When should you opt for a more secure document sharing solution such as a virtual data room? Here's a quick overview of the different types of safe document sharing options available.

Do-it-Yourself Safe Document Sharing

If you need to share general documents with others, but want to do so securely, consider these simple do-it-yourself document sharing methods:

     Password-Protected Documents-

Microsoft Office, Adobe Acrobat Pro, and other applications used to create documents often contain basic security features such as the ability to password-protect the documents you create and share. Once you password-protect a document, only those who have the password will be able to open it. Keep in mind, however, that if you email the document and its password at the same time, if that email gets intercepted, your security will be compromised. You may want to share the document via email and then call the recipient after the fact with the password.

     Shared Links and Cloud-Based Services –

Another popular safe document sharing method is to store a file on Google Drive or in a free document sharing account such as Dropbox and then share the link to that document with others. Only those who have been given the link can access the document. That said, there's nothing to prevent your recipients from sharing the link with others.

These two methods offer some basic security, but they're far from foolproof. Thus, you may want to consider some unassailable document sharing solution for your most sensitive documents.

Cloud-Based Safe Document Sharing

The most secure cloud-based document sharing solutions take security to a higher level. For example, most offer some or all of the following security measures:

     Permission-Based Roles-

With permission-based roles, you can specify exactly who can access a given document—and to what extent. Permission-based roles require individual user accounts and do require some initial setup to ensure the appropriate level of access. Access can be wanted or revoked at any time.


Encryption "scrambles" a document's contents during transmission and while stored on the cloud-provider's servers. Only those with the "keys" can decrypt documents. Look for both 256-bit AES encryption and SSL/TSL encryption.

     Two-Factor Authentication

While passwords offer some security, they can be cracked. Most solutions require the use of long passwords with a combination of alpha, numeric, and special characters in an attempt to thwart password cracking programs. That's good, but two-factor authentication is even better. With two-factor authentication, a second factor is added. For example, a user might be prompted to enter the password first followed by a unique code which is sent to the user's cell phone in real-time. If someone else guess the user's password, they won't be granted access because they do not have access to the user’s cellphone. Two-factor authentication can also be used with biometrics such as fingerprint readers or face recognition software.

The level of security appropriate for document sharing varies depending on what you are sharing and the risks involved. If you're sharing a rough draft of a blog post with a colleague prior to publishing it, using Google Drive or Dropbox is a solid choice. On the other hand, if you're sharing your company's financials with potential investors, you'll need a much more secure document sharing solution such as a virtual data room.

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