Secure File Sharing for Government Agencies: Ensuring the Confidentiality of Sensitive Information
Government agencies handle a wide range of sensitive and confidential data, from national security information and critical infrastructure details to health records and Social Security numbers. To ensure this information remains safe and secure, it is essential for government agencies to have robust protocols for secure file sharing. With the many cyber threats posed by malicious actors, hackers, careless employees, and other risks, it is imperative for government agencies to make sure their file sharing protocols are up to the task of protecting their data.
This blog post discusses the importance of secure file sharing for government agencies, the risks associated with unsecured file sharing, and how to mitigate those risks.
What Is Secure File Sharing?
Secure file sharing is a form of content exchange that offers heightened protection for the confidential emails and files being shared, whether between employees or between employees and external colleagues from third parties. By implementing encryption, multi-factor authentication, data loss prevention, and other security features, secure file sharing ensures that the content will be adequately protected from unauthorized access. Secure file sharing is essential in ensuring that government information like controlled unclassified information (CUI) and federal contract information (FCI) remains confidential, especially when it’s exchanged between government agencies or between government agencies and private businesses like contractors and subcontractors.
Secure file sharing works by protecting the content that is shared and transmitted over a communications network. This is done through a process of encryption, which encodes the file using a secure cryptographic key. This key is then used to decode the file when it reaches its intended recipient. Another important part of secure file sharing is the ability to control who can access a file when it is stored in an enterprise content management (ECM) system like Box, Dropbox, Microsoft OneDrive, and SharePoint. Access controls work by allowing only certain users (e.g., finance department employees for tax and payroll content) with the right permissions (e.g., upload, download, edit, view only, etc.) to access files or folders, or by using authentication methods to ensure that only authorized users can access sensitive content.
Secure File Sharing Benefits
Secure file sharing offers a variety of features and benefits that allow for secure and reliable data transfer between government agencies and their trusted partners. For example, secure file sharing offers enhanced security and privacy measures that protect data from unauthorized access. Additionally, secure file sharing provides additional features such as data integrity, which ensures that data is not modified during transit, and data encryption, which ensures that the data is kept confidential. Finally, secure file sharing improves the speed and efficiency of data transfer, as well as provide an added layer of control for data sharing.
Secure File Sharing for Government Agencies
Secure file sharing is critical for government agencies, as many of them process, handle, send, and receive sensitive information. This information often belongs either to the government itself or to citizens, businesses, or other organizations that partner with the government. In order to protect this information, agencies must utilize secure file sharing solutions to help prevent confidential information from unauthorized access. Secure file sharing is also critical for regulatory compliance, namely protecting the identity and data privacy of private citizens.
Secure file sharing solutions can involve a variety of capabilities and features such as encryption, authentication procedures, access control, and auditing. Strong encryption can help protect sensitive information from interception, while authentication procedures can help control who has access to the file and audit trails can record file activity. All of these features provide more security, governance, and compliance than traditional file sharing methods, making secure file sharing a necessity for government agencies.
Security Risks Associated With File Sharing
Given the rising need for government agencies to share information more securely, file sharing has become a more popular way to share files. However, there are a number of security risks associated with file sharing that must be addressed to ensure the confidentiality and integrity of sensitive information.
1. Unauthorized Access of File Sharing
The primary security risk associated with file sharing is an unauthorized user gaining access to sensitive information. This is especially true in cases where a file is shared with a large number of people who may not all have permission to view the file. To mitigate this risk, it is important to use secure methods of sharing, such as encrypting the file, setting strong passwords, and limiting access to the file to only those who are specifically authorized to view it.
2. Data Leakage Resulting From File Sharing
Another security risk associated with file sharing is the possibility of data leakage, which occurs when a user downloads a file and then shares it with other unauthorized users. To help prevent this, it is important to use suitable access controls to restrict who can view and download a file. Additionally, confidential files should be encrypted to prevent unauthorized access.
3. Malware Infection in File Sharing
By downloading a file from an untrusted source, users could be exposed to malware, which could potentially damage the file and any systems that it is stored on. To mitigate this security risk, it is important to scan all files before download to ensure that they are safe.
4. Unauthorized Modification of a File With File Sharing
When files are shared across multiple users, the risk increases that an unauthorized user may modify the contents of the file. To mitigate this risk, it is important to use digital signing and encryption to ensure that no unauthorized modifications can be made.
5. Human Error in File Sharing
Human error is another security risk associated with file sharing. This could include a user inadvertently providing incorrect information or not following protocol when sharing a file. To mitigate this risk, it is important to provide users with proper training and to have strict procedures in place for how files are shared.
How Unsecured File Sharing Can Compromise National Security
Whenever confidential information is shared , the risks of unauthorized access and accidental disclosure become very real. For example, if a government employee shares sensitive information with someone outside the agency and the file is not encrypted, an unintended recipient, perhaps a hacker or the wrong “John Smith,” could access the confidential information. Depending on the sensitivity of the information, a data leak or data breach could have dire consequences for national security or public safety.
In 2020, hundreds of thousands of files from dozens of law enforcement agencies across the United States were dumped online, totaling a collection of nearly 270 gigabytes. The leaked data came from over 200 police departments, fusion centers, and other law enforcement training and support resources. This data leak is thought to be the largest ever from law enforcement agencies. The information in the leak includes emails, audio files, text documents, and sensitive law enforcement documents like arrest reports and intelligence bulletins. This data breach raised many questions about the security of government databases and the handling of sensitive information.
Any information classified below “confidential” could still be damaging, including the exposure of citizens’ personally identifiable information or protected health information (PII/PHI).
What Are the Legal and Ethical Implications of Unsecured File Sharing?
Unsecured file sharing can have multiple legal and ethical implications. In the case of government agencies, the lack of secure protocols can result in the violation of privacy legislation and the disclosure of confidential information. This could lead to costly lawsuits and other legal repercussions. On the ethical front, unsecured file sharing could also lead to potential reputational damage, as it could be perceived as a lack of trust and respect for the confidential information in the possession of the agency.
The 2015 breach of data maintained by the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) was one of the biggest and most damaging cyberattacks ever recorded in U.S. history. It is believed that the hackers gained access to the OPM’s networks as early as 2014, and the attack was only discovered in 2015. It is estimated that the hackers were able to access the personal information of over 22 million current, former, and prospective federal employees, including sensitive data such as Social Security numbers, security clearance forms, and other personal records. The OPM was heavily criticized for its lack of proper security measures and its failure to detect the attack earlier. The event highlighted the need for heightened security measures in government institutions.
Secure file sharing is essential for government agencies that handle sensitive information. Without secure file sharing solutions or procedures in place, the confidentiality and security of the information can be compromised, resulting in legal and ethical repercussions. Therefore, the importance of secure file sharing cannot be overstated, as it is the only way to ensure the protection of sensitive information.
Secure File Sharing Protocols
There are a variety of secure file sharing technologies or features that can be used in order to ensure the confidentiality of sensitive content. For example, the Advanced Encryption Standard (AES-256) is a widely used encryption protocol that can be used to securely transmit data. Other popular protocols include Transport Layer Security (TLS), Secure Shell (SSH), and Secure File Transfer Protocol (SFTP). Each of these protocols has unique security features and benefits that can be used to ensure that data is adequately protected.
Secure File Sharing Best Practices
Secure file sharing helps keep sensitive information protected, while allowing information to flow freely and efficiently between agencies, departments, and personnel. Following these best practices can help ensure the confidentiality, integrity, and availability of sensitive government information:
1. Data Encryption in Secure File Sharing
Encryption is essential for ensuring the confidentiality of sensitive information. Encryption should be used to send and receive emails and files, as it protects the data from interception or unauthorized access. In fact, files should be encrypted in transit and at rest, with encryption standards like TLS 1.2 and AES-256, respectively. For files in transit, end-to-end encryption ensures emails and files remain protected for the entire journey between sender and recipient.
2. Secure File Transfer Protocols
Secure file transfer protocols, such as SFTP, should be used to protect data transfers. SFTP encrypts the data in transit and verifies the identity of the sender and recipient when transferring files.
3. Restricted User Access in Secure File Sharing
Access to files and data should be restricted to authorized personnel only. Access levels should be assigned according to the user’s role and access should be regularly reviewed and updated. Access controls should be implemented to ensure that only authorized users can access and view files. This can include multi-factor authentication and password-protected access.
4. Audit Logs in Secure File Sharing
All activities and access to files should be monitored and logged, so that potential security breaches can be detected quickly.
5. Implement a Risk Management Plan Using Secure File Sharing
Organizations should develop a comprehensive risk management plan to ensure that the security risks associated with file sharing are adequately addressed. This plan should include a risk assessment to identify the potential risks, a security policy outlining the procedures that must be followed when sharing files, and security measures, such as encryption and access controls, that must be implemented to ensure the security of the information being shared.
Additionally, all users should be provided with security training to ensure that they understand the security risks associated with file sharing and how to mitigate them. Finally, organizations should monitor their systems regularly to detect any unauthorized access or modifications to the files being shared.
How to Mitigate These Risks
The best way to mitigate the security risks associated with file sharing is to use the latest security technologies available. This includes using strong authentication methods, such as two-factor authentication, encrypting files before sharing, setting access controls to limit who can access the file, and scanning all files for malware before downloading. Additionally, organizations should have strict procedures in place for how files are shared, and all users should be provided with proper security training to help reduce the risk of human error.
Kiteworks Secure File Sharing for Government Agencies
Kiteworks’ secure file sharing capability, which is embedded within the Kiteworks Private Content Network, is a reliable and trusted solution for government agencies that need to securely share sensitive data within and outside their organization. With Kiteworks, government authorities have a centralized hub where they can easily manage their files while ensuring that data remains protected at all times. The platform provides end-to-end encryption, which is critical for government agencies that need to protect their data from unauthorized access. With granular access controls, government agencies can ensure that only authorized individuals have access to sensitive files, and detailed audit trails to track who accessed what files and when.
One of the most significant benefits of the Kiteworks platform for government agencies is its compliance and governance features. The platform provides complete visibility into all data, ensuring that government agencies remain compliant with industry regulations. Additionally, Kiteworks allows government agencies to set advanced content control features, ensuring that sensitive data is protected at all times. With the ability to set permissions to restrict access to specific files and set expiry dates, all government agencies can ensure that their data is only accessed by authorized personnel.
Kiteworks’ secure file sharing offers a secure solution for government agencies looking to share data across multiple platforms. With advanced compliance and governance features, as well as content protection capabilities, government authorities can be confident that their data is secure in a fast-paced business environment.
Government agencies seeking to see Kiteworks’ secure file sharing capability in action can schedule a custom-tailored demo today.
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