Navigating the complexities of securely transmitting digital documents

Sending and receiving important, mission-critical, or time-sensitive documents -- whether as an email attachment, via a file-sharing app, or as a digital fax -- is today a critical component of business processes and communication.

Digital documents are now a primary form of business communication, and everything from contracts to proposals and RFQs should be considered data that is governed by compliance and security regulations. Let’s examine the four leading considerations for businesses when it comes to secure digital document transmission.

The cloud as a document platform

When managing electronic documents, companies and organisations must solve the challenge of, on the one hand, providing frictionless access to authorized staff members while prohibiting access to non-authorized staff and maintaining security as well.

Many companies rely on off-the-shelf file-sharing apps and services for their delivery of electronic documents. But in practice, these platforms do not offer secure and auditable means of faxing, emailing, or transmitting electronic documents.

File-sharing apps and services are designed for use in daily exchanges between colleagues and teams. They’re unsuited for one-off transmissions of single documents

In light of the limitations of file-sharing platforms, companies are considering alternative options -- including establishing internal fax servers, document servers and other transmission platforms. These internal document delivery systems are often deemed closed systems. However, they are ill-suited to deliver electronic documents to external third parties, especially those who may only request electronic documents on an infrequent basis -- such as contracts, records, instructions, and generic statements.

Managing and storing digital documents

To manage and store digital or electronic documents, let’s first define what they are. The term "digital documents" encompasses a wide range of technologies and formats, from PDFs to digital faxes to scanned paper documents.

The definition of a "digital document" depends on the context of the company using it and how that use is affected by company policy and compliance requirements. The all-or-nothing approach is the easiest way for most organizations to manage their electronic documents and is based on the idea that any content that is sent electronically counts as a digital document and must be managed.

As long as digital documents can only be transmitted through managed email, fax services, or other systems that prevent data leakage, the origin of data within them becomes less of a concern. Traditional security policies can be used to control access to the files, while the transmission of information can focus upon the digital documents themselves.

PCI Compliance

In 2006, the PCI Security Standards Council (PCI SSC) launched a set of new requirements designed to ensure a secure credit card environment among all companies that process, store, or transmit credit card information. In order to help businesses, accept credit cards safely, the SSC provides a comprehensive framework of rules and guidelines, plus tools and support resources. Initial encryption standards that previously only applied to merchant transactions were extended to cover encrypted transactions on the internet. Credit card companies' security protocols are based on Data Security Standard (PCI DSS), which is compulsory in the payment card industry.

Cardholders' sensitive financial information is kept secure by PCI compliance standards, preventing fraud, and minimising data breaches. Information that is unencrypted is more vulnerable to hacking. In addition to identity theft, hackers can use the cardholder's sensitive information for a multitude of fraudulent activities. Compliance with PCI is an industry mandate and those who fail to comply can be fined for violating agreements and negligence. Furthermore, those without it are at risk of theft and fraud caused by data breaches.

PCI Compliance means your systems are secure and reduces the possibility of data breaches. Suffering even a single high-profile security breach can ruin your brand reputation and cause customers to lose trust in your ability to protect sensitive credit card information and demolish your customer loyalty. In addition to negatively impacting the reputation of a business, data breaches can result in lawsuits, insurance claims, cancelled accounts, payment card issuer fines, and fines from government agencies.

Security of e-documents

The introduction of e-documents as a subset of data files brings with it new security concerns. Enabling e-documents to be portable while still preserving their security during transmission is a priority. For e-documents to be considered secure, the same universal policy rules and accountability requirements must be applied, regardless of which transmission medium or service is used.

E-document transmission can be provided through cloud-based services. However, adopting these services can lead to a closed platform that makes it difficult for users to share electronic documents - and which therefore might also negatively affect productivity.

To properly secure electronic documents, organisations can combine open-platform technologies with cloud-based service tools. It should offer encryption of e-document transmission, security controls to allow or deny the transmission of e-documents, integrated faxing, email, and e-document transmission capabilities, and an easy-to-use interface designed to work across multiple operating systems and browsers.

Scott Wilson is Vice President of International Sales and Support at eFax.

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