The traditional thin metal filing cabinets with a built-in key lock were the standard for businesses looking to keep their paperwork secure. Additional measures could be taken of course - placing those cabinets behind several locked doors, minimizing the number of people with access to keys, or even installing more heavy duty safes for highly confidential documents.
Although there are arguably still reasons to hold onto paper copies of important documents, for the most part, many processes and documents can easily be moved fully online. Digitized documents currently tend to exist alongside paper ones in most companies - though sometimes duplicates, many are used for different purposes.
Due to the split between the two methods of creating, sharing, and storing paper and digital documents, it’s important that businesses have proper measures in place to ensure the security of both. Treating documents as they are an asset is a crucial part of building a clear system to keep documents secure - for businesses working with both paper and digital, this means two systems.
As mentioned above, although it might have slightly trivialized the storage of paper documents, there is significant risk in dealing with paper documents. Risk of loss, damage, theft, or even natural disaster.
Digital document handling is significantly more secure, but not without its own set of risks. However, as with paper documents, there are also a number of ways to improve digital document management throughout the entire workflow.
Document security risk factors
In 2020, it was found that over 60% of data breaches came from within companies. This means that even in a secure environment, the wrong person gaining access to paperwork can have major ramifications.
While many might think of these more as some disgruntled employee sneaking in in the middle of the night to crack open the flimsy file cabinet lock with a crowbar, theft of sensitive material from documents can happen at any point in its journey through its given workflow.
This means it could be photographed while sitting on the desk of an employee, it could be taken in the courier process to gather signatures. Or it could indeed go missing mysteriously from a locked room. And that’s only paper documents.
Handling documents in a digital environment are also at risk during their processing - from their creation in for example a word processor, to emailing, to downloading, signing and scanning the document to gather signatures (in a slightly more antiquated version of this process).
Finally, the digital document itself or at the very least the data collected in its workflow are delivered to the data systems of a business. Transferring confidential information over servers and through multiple systems increases the risk.
Secure digital document processing
Since we’re talking about data security, no matter whether a document is paper or digital, precautions should all start in the same place: with employee training and awareness, as well as clear document handling procedures and office space management.
With documents in the digital space, every business should start with a few basic steps to ensure a secure working environment:
- Conduct a security audit: how are documents currently being handled?
- Set up regular training for staff: train new staff and remind existing staff of the proper way to handle sensitive digital data (for example: which channels are appropriate for sharing or discussing the information).
- Make office policies clear: should employees always lock their computers when stepping away from the desk? Do you need to implement a “clean desk policy”?
- Take a look at encryption and backup systems: even data can have glitches or go missing. Encryption provides an extra layer of security while backups mean that less is lost in a worst-case scenario.
Beyond these steps to get started with digital document security, it’s crucial to take a look at all steps of how a document is handled - the digital workflow.
In an online space, it can still be possible for the wrong person to gain access to sensitive documents if they are not managed properly in a secure system. Thankfully, there are solutions available now that provide simple ways to manage digital documents including:
- Creating secure online forms
- Controlling who has access to a document
- Viewing the audit trail and activity log of a document
- Gathering verified electronic signatures
- and delivering encrypted necessary details to a data system
By using tools such as these, combined with the steps above, businesses can greatly reduce the security risks surrounding the handling of digital documents. With the added bonus of speedier workflows and considerably more safety than paper and those flimsy filing cabinets.
Dedication to internal data security also allows businesses to build digital trust to improve relationships with customers, company reputation, and to prevent data breaches such as those related to the GDPR which could result in hefty penalties.