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Tips to help keep your documents more secure whether you send them by mail, email, or via the cloud
Many people tend to feel a bit uneasy when sharing documents with an external party. Whether it is a business file like an internal balance sheet, or a personal document like your passport, you want to take every precaution to help ensure your information is only seen by its intended recipients. - available in English only
This concern leads some people to send sensitive documents only by direct mail, but even that can be risky — your package could get lost or accidentally sent to the wrong destination. In today’s digital world, it is becoming increasingly common and much more convenient to send these types of documents digitally, through email and/or using a file-transfer platform or cloud-based document sharing service. These types of services host and manage documents in the cloud. Digital workflows are faster and more efficient than traditional methods, and are generally easier to keep up to date. Digital documents can also enable enhanced access for users with visual impairments who traditionally need to ask for assistance from an external vendor when reviewing physical documents.
In this article, we break down best practices on sharing documents and provide tips on how to help protect those documents.
Why your documents need protection
We live in a physical world, but the way we exchange information is increasingly digital. Many businesses and consumers began embracing digital documents and signatures more frequently during the COVID-19 pandemic. The breadth and scope of files they shared online also expanded.
Documents can and should be protected throughout their journey. This could mean sending information by registered mail in the case of paper-based documents, or in the case of email and cloud hosted documents, encrypting files and restricting access to approved recipients.
Getting physical: Sending important documents by mail
Certain organizations may still require official documents to be a physical printout directly from their sender. Even some consumers prefer to send and receive official documents in a sealed envelope. Additionally, some government agencies may require a signature on paper, also known as a wet signature, for official documents.
Here are three tips to help ensure your physical docs arrive to its intended recipients securely and on time:
- Use a sealed envelope — Don’t just lick the envelope, seal it. A securely closed envelope is less likely to be opened or tampered with in transit. That protection starts from the moment you drop it into a mailbox and ends when your intended recipient breaks the seal to read the document.
- Protect your paper — Paper documents are prone to potential damage such as tearing, bending, or moisture. Use a thick waterproof envelope to help protect your documents from damage, especially irreplaceable ones like a passport or social security card.
- Double-check the address — It might seem obvious, but always double-check that the destination listed on the envelope is where you want your mail to go.
- Track, get proof of delivery and consider insuring your package — Delivery services use tracking numbers so you can stay up to date with the location of your documents. Don’t lose this number, you can usually use your smartphone to get latest updates. Most carriers will provide proof of delivery as well. If you need a hard copy to show that your envelope was signed for, they can do that too. Insurance is recommended for documents and packages that have significant value.
Sending mail nationally
In the United States, it is illegal to open someone else’s mail. This regulation is enough to discourage curious outsiders from reading your documents, but it is unlikely to deter a motivated criminal, especially one that has specifically targeted you or your business.
Make sure to package your documents sealed in opaque packaging so their contents are invisible and difficult to access without tearing the envelope entirely. Send these documents via a reputable carrier that allows you to track and monitor your package’s progress from origin to destination.
Sending mail internationally
International deliveries take a longer time to reach their destination as documents and packages change hands multiple times en route. Speed can be your friend under these circumstances so it may make sense to pay a little more and opt for expedited delivery. It is also prudent to send packages by registered mail and require a signature upon delivery, which will give you peace of mind that your documents have reached the right person.
Note that delivery companies in other countries may have different policies about what to do with a package if the recipient isn’t available at the time of delivery. Be sure to specify that your documents cannot be left with anyone apart from the intended recipient. Tracking down a lost or stolen package after delivery is virtually impossible.
Going digital: Sending information electronically
It is crucial to help secure electronic documents (e-docs), especially if they contain sensitive information or a legal signature. There are multiple ways to share e-docs, including email, file-transfers, and centralized document libraries hosted in the cloud. The most used forms of digital documents are email, cloud-based files, and PDFs, each of which comes with its own considerations.
The most common way to send digital files can be potentially one of the most vulnerable to cyber-attacks. Malicious email is typically the starting point to ransomware and phishing attacks.
There are three keys to helping protect email data: encrypting the message itself, encrypting attached documents, and password-protecting those documents. Recommended practices can vary between businesses, but at a minimum should respect AES standards, the specification set by the U.S. National Institute for Standards and Technology.
Documents in the cloud
Hosting documents in the cloud is attractive when dealing with large files that cannot be sent as email attachments, or when multiple stakeholders need access at once. As opposed to emails, cloud-hosted documents are created, modified, and can be deleted at the source.
Once uploaded, make sure your files are automatically hosted privately until an administrator sends a secure access link to your chosen recipients. Access and editing rights can be managed on an individual basis, so that some users can modify the document while others can simply view it in “read only” mode. That’s why cloud-based platforms are well suited to managing legally binding documents, as they reduce the likelihood of opening, tampering or printing by an external party.
Password protection should come via digital signature solutions such as Adobe Sign. Not only do these replace paper and make signing more efficient, they also allow you to control document access based on people’s email address or another digital identifier. When signing a document with a certificate-based signature, the signer’s identity is validated by a trusted service, and the signature is cryptographically bound to the document using public key infrastructure (PKI) technology. This makes digital signatures, such as cloud signatures, ideal for specific transactions or when you need to comply with regulations such as eIDAS in the European Union.
Of course, even cloud-based document libraries need to be managed regularly. Be sure to delete information and documents that you no longer need.
PDF is the most commonly used file format for creating and sharing documents — and with good reason. These files can easily be encrypted with password protection, and you can apply permissions to PDFs that limit who can copy modify or print the information these documents contain. Below are four effective strategies to help protect your PDFs from theft, loss, or unwanted access.
- Add a password to your PDF files — Passwords offer a crucial layer of encryption to your PDFs, helping prevent anyone who does not have the correct login details from accessing the files.
- Extend protection to your Microsoft Office documents — To keep unwanted outsiders from copying your Word, Excel, PowerPoint or other MS Office docs, and make them PDFs. This can keep their original formatting intact. It will also help ensure even people without the Office apps can open and interact with the documents. You can also restrict editing rights to help ensure content cannot be changed.
- Customize your protection — Some files may require more protection than others. Customized access rights, like the “Publish Sensitive Information” action in Adobe Acrobat Pro, allow you to redact, protect, and save files with your preferred restrictions and apply those automatically.
- Standardize security for your team — By creating custom security policies for your team, you’ll help ensure users apply the correct and approved password protection and permissions to their files consistently.
File sharing for a digital world
Cybersecurity is every business’ especially in today’s digital economy. With your employees sending and receiving hundreds of files every day, keeping their contents safe should be a top priority for your company and its customers.
Luckily, the technology required to protect electronic files has advanced considerably. Learn how businesses are using Adobe Document Cloud to adopt digital workflows with enhanced security and integrity.
This post was originally published on the Adobe Blog.