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File Sync And Sharing: Users Won't Give It Up

Users need file syncing for real business purposes, so it's up to you to figure out a way to protect the data.
8 Great Cloud Storage Services
8 Great Cloud Storage Services
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I was in Frankfurt, Germany, last week speaking on cloud security. Based on the attendance at the sessions, the European IT community is just as concerned about security as American IT. My talk had two parts: one on securing the storage itself through encryption, especially flash storage, and another on securing the users. Interestingly, user security, in particular their use of consumer file syncing and sharing programs, drew the most interest.

The problem with file syncing and sharing is that users have a taste for it. It solves a real problem they are struggling with: how to make sure all their data is on all their devices and how to share large files with colleagues without having to email it to them. In other words, the "cat is out of the bag."

Although the meaning of that phrase got lost in the translation to my mostly German audience, they eventually understood the point. IT planners have three options now when it comes to providing a file syncing and sharing service. They can choose to ignore it and hope it goes away. I don't think it will; it is here to stay. They can try to block its use, which in my experience is very hard to do. Users are very good at figuring out ways around things like that and often their workarounds cause more headaches than not blocking it at all. Or third, they can embrace file syncing and sharing and try to offer a better service that is more secure.

[ Read about Microsoft's foray into storage: Is Microsoft Ready To Be A Storage Player? ]

Most IT professionals have decided the third option is the best one for their data centers and their organizations. As a result, the search for an enterprise class file syncing and sharing solution is in full swing at many data centers. There are three general types of solutions: a fully private one, which uses your own storage assets; a full-cloud solution, which uses only a cloud provider; or a hybrid approach.

In my next column I'll cover the pros and cons of each of the implementation methods, but from an enterprise perspective there are some specific capabilities that you want to make sure are in place no matter which solution you end up going with. The first of these is the ability to encrypt data as early and as completely as possible. At a minimum, the provider of this solution should be encrypting data while at rest and while in transmission. An increasing number of providers also have the ability to encrypt data that is at rest on the user's endpoint device as well.

The second capability is IT oversight and control. You need to be able to see what data is being shared, by whom and with whom. Many solutions have expanded to also provide end-point backup. If you've decided to count on this from your solution you also need to make sure that devices are being protected. Finally, you probably want some type of remote wipe capability so data that is cached on a user's devices can be erased when they leave the company.

In my next column I'll cover the pros and cons of the different implementation styles, but for now, IT planners need to take a hard look at the file, sync and share problem. Users are expecting it and if you don't deliver, they might go off and do it on their own, putting corporate data at risk from both accidental deletion as well as specific external hacks.

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Editors' Choice
Kirsten Powell, Senior Manager for Security & Risk Management at Adobe
Joshua Goldfarb, Director of Product Management at F5