How to Secure Your Documents


Sharing documents among team members in an organization can streamline tasks and enhance productivity. However, ensuring the security of these documents can be challenging, especially for those responsible for managing the organization’s security. Despite the complexities, it is possible to implement effective document security, such as secure fax delivery, by following the right steps. Here are some essential tips to help organizations protect their documents, regardless of the sharing methods used.

Understanding Document Security

Document security involves safeguarding documents from various threats, including:

  • Hackers stealing document data: Hackers may attempt to infiltrate your network to steal sensitive information, which could result in financial losses, legal issues, and damage to your organization’s reputation.
  • Loss of documents: Important documents can be lost due to accidental deletion, hardware failure, or physical misplacement, causing disruption and potential data loss.
  • Exposure of personal information: Unauthorized access to documents containing personal information can lead to identity theft, privacy breaches, and non-compliance with data protection laws.
  • Unauthorized copies of sensitive documents: When sensitive documents are copied without authorization, it can lead to data leaks, intellectual property theft, and competitive disadvantages.

Securing documents encompasses both paper and digital formats, requiring consistent protective measures from all team members. Effective document security begins at the administrative level, with the establishment of organizational policies and hardware setups that enforce specific security protocols. Individual team members must adhere to these policies to ensure the protection of sensitive information.

Nine Reliable Practices for Document Security

1.  Digitize Your Documents

Paper documents pose a higher security risk than digital ones. They can be lost, stolen, or removed without notice. By digitizing paper documents, you can apply various security measures to protect them. Once digitized, shred the paper copies to eliminate the risk of physical theft.

Digitizing documents involves scanning paper copies and converting them into digital formats, which can then be encrypted, password-protected, and stored securely in the cloud or on encrypted drives. This process not only reduces the risk of physical document theft but also makes it easier to manage and retrieve documents. Additionally, digital documents can be backed up automatically, ensuring that they are never truly lost even in case of hardware failure or accidental deletion.

2.  Use Password Protection

Protecting important files with passwords is crucial, especially if team members use laptops or mobile devices. Without password protection, a lost or stolen device could give unauthorized access to sensitive documents. Adding password protection is straightforward in software like Microsoft 365 and Adobe Acrobat.

Password Protecting Microsoft 365 Documents:

  • Go to the File menu, then Info.
  • Click Protect Document and select Encrypt with Password.
  • Enter a password and confirm it.

Password Protecting Adobe Acrobat PDF Documents:

  • Open the Tools menu, then Protect, followed by Encrypt, and Encrypt with Password.
  • Check the box for Require a Password to Open the Document and enter your password.
  • Choose the appropriate version compatibility for encryption strength.

By using password protection, you ensure that only authorized personnel can access sensitive documents, even if the device storing them is compromised. This adds an essential layer of security to prevent data breaches and unauthorized access.

3.  Use Strong Passwords

Strong passwords are essential for document security. Encourage team members to use complex passwords that are hard to guess. Effective passwords should:

  • Include a mix of uppercase and lowercase letters, numbers, and special characters
  • Be at least 10 to 20 characters long
  • Avoid common words, phrases, or personal information

Password managers like 1Password and Dashlane can help manage and generate strong passwords. These tools can create highly complex passwords and store them securely, so team members don’t have to remember each one. Strong passwords significantly reduce the risk of unauthorized access to documents and systems, making it harder for hackers to breach


4.  Set Up Two-Factor Authentication (2FA)

If available, enable 2FA for software and cloud storage accounts. With 2FA, users must enter a username, password, and a verification code sent to their device. This adds an extra layer of security, making it harder for hackers to gain access even if they have the username and password.

Two-factor authentication enhances security by requiring two forms of verification, which means that even if one factor (such as the password) is compromised, unauthorized access is still unlikely without the second factor (such as the verification code). This method is highly effective in protecting sensitive documents and accounts from unauthorized access.

5.  Encrypt Your Files

Encryption adds another security layer by scrambling data, making it unreadable without the correct password. Both Windows and Mac operating systems offer built-in encryption tools.

Setting Up Encryption on Windows:

  • Open Settings, go to Update & Security, and select Device Encryption.
  • Turn on encryption if available. If not, use BitLocker or third-party encryption software.

Setting Up Encryption on Mac:

  • Open System Preferences, go to Security & Privacy, and select FileVault.
  • Turn on FileVault and choose to use your iCloud login or a new password.

Encryption ensures that even if a file is accessed by an unauthorized person, they will not be able to read the content without the decryption key. This makes encryption a powerful tool for protecting sensitive information stored on computers and other devices.

6.  Avoid Emailing Documents

Emailing documents can lead to unauthorized copies or printing. Instead, use alternatives like:

  • Cloud Storage: Share links to view-only documents.
  • Digital Signatures: Use services like DocuSign to securely sign documents.

Sharing documents via email can create multiple copies that are difficult to track and control. Using cloud storage and digital signature services ensures that documents remain within a secure environment where access can be monitored and controlled.

7.  Have Backup Copies Available

Regularly back up documents to avoid data loss. Cloud storage solutions can automatically back up files, ensuring that copies exist even if the local file is lost or corrupted. Encrypt data stored in the cloud for additional security.

Backups are essential for disaster recovery, protecting against data loss due to hardware failures, accidental deletions, or cyberattacks. Regular backups ensure that you can quickly restore lost or corrupted files, minimizing downtime and disruption to your operations.

8.  Ensure Deleted Files Are Permanently Removed

Simply deleting files might not remove them entirely. Use secure deletion methods, such as:

  • Holding the Shift key while deleting to bypass the recycle bin.
  • Using third-party shredding software to overwrite and permanently delete data.

Even after deletion, fragments of the file may remain on the storage device and could be recovered by a determined hacker. Secure deletion methods ensure that deleted files cannot be easily retrieved, protecting sensitive information from unauthorized recovery.

9.  Identify and Protect Sensitive Files

Not all files require the same level of security. Focus on protecting:

  • Financial documents
  • Personal information
  • Company plans
  • Employee information
  • Sensitive competitive information

By identifying which documents are most sensitive, you can apply appropriate security measures to those files while avoiding overburdening team members with unnecessary security protocols for less critical information. This targeted approach helps maintain high security standards without sacrificing efficiency.

Establishing Document Security Policies

Develop and enforce clear policies for handling documents. Some potential policies include:

  • Secure Storage for Paper Documents: Implement a clean desk policy and monitor shared printers.
  • Network Access Control: Regularly review and update access permissions for team members.
  • Controlled Document Sharing: Set guidelines for sharing files, both internally and externally.
  • Password Guidelines: Enforce strong password creation and usage, possibly requiring password manager software.
  • Mobile Device Encryption: Require encryption for documents on mobile devices and USB drives.
  • Cloud Storage Rules: Define rules for using cloud storage, focusing on security measures like encryption and file deletion.

Establishing and enforcing document security policies ensures that all team members understand their roles and responsibilities in protecting sensitive information. Regular reviews and updates to these policies help keep them relevant and effective as new threats and technologies emerge.

Training and Implementation

Once policies are in place, train team members to understand and follow them. Ensure that the guidelines are simple and easy to implement. Emphasize the importance of document security to motivate compliance.

Effective training programs should include real-life examples and scenarios to help team members understand the potential risks and consequences of failing to follow security protocols. Regular refresher training sessions can help reinforce these practices and keep security top of mind.

Real-Time Access Control with Nira

Nira offers real-time access control for managing document access in Google Workspace. Contact us for a demo to review your current setup or implement a real-time access control system for enhanced document security.

Real-time access control systems like Nira provide visibility into who has access to your documents and allow you to manage permissions dynamically. This helps prevent unauthorized access and ensures that only the right people can view or edit sensitive information.

By following these practices and policies, organizations can effectively secure their documents, protecting sensitive information and maintaining trust.

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