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5 ways to transfer sensitive documents safely to employees

14 Aug, 2021 Business management, PR management

Unforeseen pressures caused by the COVID pandemic have heightened workplace security issues worldwide. As we’ve seen, trends include the transfer of many employees to remote and hybrid work. This is likely to signal a permanent change in work mode – and more security issues. Organizational vaccination policies further increase workplace uncertainties and are further complicating the internal transfer of sensitive documents. This article helps with decisions on how best to transfer sensitive documents safely to employees

After pandemic restrictions end, would your team continue to operate remotely? About 71% of US workers were in WFH mode in October 2020, according to the Pew Research Center, which found that more than half (54%) said that they would like continue working remotely. Organizations committing to a hybrid workforce model for the long term will need to consider which tech solutions will simultaneously work best for employees in all the office-based, hybrid, and fully remote modes. Security, reliability, ease of use, and compliance issues are all factors in deciding which toolsets and documents everyone will be expected to use wherever they are based.

How often would you need to transfer sensitive documents to employees?

People in our profession handle a large range of sensitive documents. These include drafts and final versions of annual reports and associated financial statements, commercially sensitive media releases, publicly sensitive documents like community and ESG issues, drafts of executive speeches and presentations, periodic corporate reports, strategy papers on corporate reputation and stakeholder relations, as well as issue management and crisis management strategies.

Further complications surface when we think of the handling of sensitive documents between staff. Security and confidentiality issues may arise from technology problems such as when malware infects a device which could then infect and disrupt the overall network.

Sensitive internal documents

What about sensitive internal documents? As a professional communicator, you would have documents to prepare for internal communication relating to:

  • Policy announcements to employees.
  • Internal newsletters including layout and graphics of organizational results.
  • Strategic planning for internal issues and project plans.
  • Employer branding strategies.

As a manager, you would be responsible for decisions about sensitive matters like:

  • Employment and records of team members, including recruitment, locations, salary packages, employee recognition, promotions, conditions of employment, and retention, layoffs.
  • Documentation on employee development and performance management.
  • Appointment of contractors and freelancers.

5 ways to transfer sensitive documents safely to employees

Here is an overview of the ways you can transfer sensitive documents safely to employees:

1. Email

Email is used universally. It is deeply embedded in everyone’s workplace. But email is well-known to be vulnerable to the dangers of an increasing number of cyberattacks and malware. Email phishing attacks have become more successful during the COVID-19 pandemic. Also, employee distractions cause people to send an email to the wrong address. Senders are known to occasionally include ‘reply all’ in their email by mistake, which can result in various consequences.

In many cases, email contains sensitive information – either in the body of the text or in an attachment. Such unauthorized material could have severe repercussions for your organization and may create awkward privacy problems for relevant individuals or organizations.

Encrypted email

For an email message to be secure, it must be encrypted before sending, and remain encrypted until the other party receives it. Encrypted emails give better security, but it’s not always possible to be sure the recipient has sufficient security practices in place, and whether they are fully implementing them.

2. Faxes

Many people assume faxing is a thing of the past, but in the experience of Metrofax, the industry has updated and is upsurging. Professor Jonathan Coopersmith, Professor of History at Texas A&M University, and author of a book on the fax industry, agrees in an article in The Conversation, in 15 February 2019:

Millions of people, businesses, and community groups send millions of faxed pages every day, from standalone fax machines, multifunction printers, and computer-based fax services. It turns out that in many cases, faxing is more secure, easier to use, and better suited to existing work habits than computer-based messaging.

The healthcare sector around the world relies heavily on faxes for both routine reporting and important situations. My physician’s medical center is one of those. Their admin staff tells me fax security is a proven benefit for them. Legal, logistics, and government at all levels also use faxing for security reasons.

Digital faxes

Many options that include faxes transmitted over the internet offer good cybersecurity. Cloud-based, online fax solutions add more security because documents generated are stored in the Cloud.

Prof. Coopersmith also observes:

The fax industry has adapted to accommodate new technologies. Surveys suggest users are shifting to computer-based services, such as fax servers that let users send and receive faxes as electronic documents. Cloud-based fax services, which treat faxes as images or PDF files attached to emails, are also becoming more popular. These new systems can transmit faxes over telephone lines or the internet, depending on the recipient, handling paper and electronic documents equally easily.

3. Other digital options

Despite their limitations, email and IM (instant messaging) are indispensable in a remote working environment, but only if they are integrated into a central destination that provides your employees with quick, easy access to relevant information and conversations. The hybrid model for office collaboration brings together email, IM, and your intranet. Such a hybrid model would raise questions about how well it enables you to transfer sensitive documents safely to employees

4. Encrypted file-sharing services

If you wish to transfer sensitive documents safely, another useful option is to use a file-sharing service. Various providers provide encrypted transmissions for this purpose. For instance, Dropbox is a practical solution for setting up a shared folder for internal and external recipients.

Files in the shared folder will be transmitted in encrypted form to Dropbox’s servers. The files will go to your own Dropbox folder and to your recipient’s folder. However, the Dropbox mobile app only sends unencrypted content, so the app is a weak point in this process. At least your own Dropbox file will be safely based on your own server.

5. Direct delivery

As we have seen from news coverage, hacking is rampant these days. Culprits use highly sophisticated ways to access sensitive documents. But if you deliver your document in person or by a trusted courier or mail delivery service personally to the recipient, it will be safe during transit, especially when you collect the signature. You can still apply a digital angle by delivering a password-encrypted USB thumb drive.

Back up your documents

When transferring or transmitting a document, make sure you have a backup. Doing so ensures you won’t lose any important information if ever the original got lost in transit. You can either photocopy or scan them. Also, save them on your own business PC as well as a USB. Finally, ensure you shred any sensitive documents you have finished using. These precautions will enable you to transfer sensitive documents safely to employees.

About Kim Harrison – author, editor and content curator

Kim Harrison, Founder and Principal of Cutting Edge PR, loves sharing actionable ideas and information about professional communication and business management. He has wide experience as a corporate affairs manager, consultant, author, lecturer, and CEO of a non-profit organization. Kim is a Fellow and former national board member of the Public Relations Institute of Australia, and he ran his State’s professional development program for 7 years, helping many practitioners to strengthen their communication skills. People from 115 countries benefit from the practical knowledge shared in his monthly newsletter and in his books available from cuttingedgepr.com.

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