Encouraging secure collaboration in the workplace

Due to the increased demand for efficient collaboration in organizations, collaboration software, applications, and platforms are popping up left, right, and center to address this need. Some are enterprise grade — with all the bells and whistles and others are free to use, easy for employees to come by, but don’t have much consideration for security. Employees want to share data immediately and want to work on projects in real time to achieve the most efficient outcome. There is a growing need for speed and efficiency in the workplace. However, with this innate requirement for immediate sharing, there is a high risk for accidental loss of data and breaches. Encouraging collaboration in the workplace is not enough — you must encourage secure collaboration

Although this is the case, and despite mounting urgency to ensure data protection compliance with regulation, a lot of organizations are still approaching data sharing haphazardly. Security gaps remain prevalent when it comes to data sharing, with companies still inadequately choosing which data to encrypt and essentially to protect, often leaving sensitive and unstructured data at risk.

Data sharing through various collaboration tools (many unauthorized) is one of the areas that may be falling through the cracks when it comes to securing data and sharing it securely. However, it may not solely be attributed to the platforms that are being used, but rather how employees go about using them, or not using them. The partial embracing of tools may lead to ineffective security as well.

Additionally, the use of collaboration software without company authorization is also a growing concern. Like a lot of other shadow IT. Employees may not be aware of the associated risk, and signing up for unauthorized and not security vetted collaborations tools — tools that are not supported by the company’s security or IT department —  can impact the company’s security and make the company vulnerable to attack. Employees are inadvertently inviting security risk.

Increase collaboration potential while reducing the security risk

secure collaboration
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The biggest issues faced with inappropriate collaboration in the workplace are the unintentional loss of information as well as the lack of visibility and control that some tools elicit.  While trying to do their job, it is too easy for employees’ actions to be a data breach risk, and a lot of the time employees are unaware of it. After all, they are only trying their best to be efficient and to get their work done.

The problem is that many collaboration tools have made it easier to share data in ways that are not covered by a company’s traditional security policies and protection procedures. These are easily circumvented without employees even realizing. This means that the accidental breach is now a very real risk with very real consequences.

How to instill a safer and secure collaboration practice

Make it easy and effective

There is a definite growing requirement for organizations to easily and effectively collaborate internally as well as with external parties. It is important that management understand their employee’s need for this and address it so that employees do not opt to use collaboration tools of their choice that are not authorized and security vetted by the organisation. If employees feel forced to find their own way, what may seem like a trivial action to them-like sending an email unencrypted or uploading a file that contains sensitive data, it could generate great security risk and jeopardize the company’s overall security. Especially, if the company’s traditional security is circumvented and security policies are ignored.

Collaboration needs clear direction from the top down. Management needs to consider employees and the tasks that they need to fulfill. They need to consider the data asset being shared (that is the information that employees are working with, collaborating on and sharing), the security culture of the organisation and their responsibility in ensuring tasks are achieved safely without risking the company’s security or increasing its vulnerability to intrusion or attack. This includes accidental error because of inappropriate collaboration methods used.

It’s vital to ensure that the collaboration system of choice is well suited to the team using it. If it is not, no matter how secure it might be, if employees need to jump through hoops to get it to work effectively and it’s complicated to use–employees will not use it. Instead, they will either use it in a way that works for them which may hamper the tools security or they will opt to use something else–something that they find easier and more effective which may increase the security risk.

At the end of the day, employees need to fulfill the jobs that they were employed to do. Unfortunately, not all employees (although in the ideal world they would be) are concerned about the security of the company. So, it is managements role to address user’s needs in a way that helps them to get through their workload and enforces security at the same time.

It’s important for management to note that secure collaboration is only possible if the whole company takes it on. Ease of use and the capability for the platform to allow employees to do their work efficiently is key to this. Collaboration must be easy for it to be secure!

Make it easy to control and manage

It’s all good and well having written down security policies and rules, but without employees putting these into practice these policies are futile. A lot of the time employees know what it is they should be doing to share data securely, however, don’t always act in the manner that mirrors this.

This is why opting for a collaboration technology with granular control is important. The technology should provide functionality that enables the organisation to enforce security policies that ensure data is always shared appropriately. A platform with multi-level control is important to accommodate different roles, users and types of data sharing.

The system should integrate with your existing processes and environment so that your security controls can be easily applied here too. A system with analytical capabilities is essential so that you can track, monitor and report on the data being shared to manage it appropriately.

Collaboration must not circumvent company security, but enforce accountability and uphold company security policies

Get the balance right between security, functionality, and scalability

Collaboration is something that will be needed now and into the future. So, functionality is important, but so is the ability for the system to scale and maintain an effective level of security when demands change.

Future demands should be considered when choosing a technology to avoid issues later on. The balance needs to be agreed so that an environment can be achieved where the benefits can be expanded if needed while curtailing the security risk brought about by accidental compromise.

If you choose a collaboration technology based only on one of these factors, either functionality or security or scalability, while ignoring the others it may come back to bite you.

Secure collaboration is not only about the technology you choose to use

secure collaboration

As important as it is to employ a functional collaborative system that works for your team and integrates with your infrastructure and environment, it is as important to ensure that your data is properly protected (no matter what) and that your employees are kept trained and educated continuously.

Securing the data that you share is an essential component of secure collaboration and employee education is fundamental to comprehensive security success.

Creating a collaborative system that is well suited to your company and employees needs can help to foster employee commitment to use the authorized system instead of alternatives that perhaps offer reduced security. However, encrypting sensitive data will ensure that even if the data is accidentally lost or lands in the wrong hands it will still be protected.

Employees need to comply with the company security policy to ensure company data, networks and environments are protected as best as can be, but to encourage this security culture–education is key. It is no good putting it on paper and expecting it to be followed or ignoring it and being hopeful. Nothing good can come from this approach. Employees must be educated on the security risks of data sharing and the risks involved when collaborating online or while using unauthorized tools. Data must always be protected (encrypted) and whenever it is shared to avoid any potential breach.

Most employees just do what it takes to get their jobs done

 The area of collaboration is a growing market, but the organisation must ensure that the tools being used and employed are secure and are used effectively and securely. Great benefit can be had from consolidating communications: calls, chats, messaging, video and email in a single place—if it can be achieved securely and not at the cost of data security. Collaborating securely is possible when it is practiced properly.

Creating a secure collaborative system that works for both your organisation and employees is not easy. However, it is necessary. It is vital for data security and the security of organizations to ensure that employees have the secure collaborative systems that they need to do their work and to stop employees from accidentally exposing companies to security and compliance risk by using easy to come by, less secure alternatives to collaborate.

Companies need visibility and control over data, but employees need to share data and collaborate to do their work efficiently. They will find a way to collaborate (securely or not), so it’s in the best interest of the organisation to arm employees with the suitable tools to do so securely and in an authorized and governable manner.

Featured image: Pexels

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