Why you might want a secure file sharing service now that you’re working from home

When we were all in the office, many of us were connected to the office network. We didn’t have to think twice about file sharing. But now that we’re scattered across the landscape, sharing important files securely can require careful planning. This is why you may want to use powerful file sharing services to securely share sensitive files so you can collaborate better wherever you work.

The easiest way to share a file is probably by attaching a document to an email or to a Slack or other instant message. But either way leads to problems on several fronts. If you rely too much on your email or messaging system, your poorly archived files can become available to nosy hackers with phishing lures. If you share traditional documents that way, you could also quickly play the “who has the most recent version” game. It’s hard to keep up with updates when multiple people are working on the same document, spreadsheet, or presentation.

While built-in collaboration tools like Google Workspace or Microsoft OneDrive (or something similar based on your email identity) can solve the version control problem — and may be your only option if your company insists on it — they can become cumbersome once your team continues to expand your office domain. You may inadvertently share the document with people who shouldn’t see it, or lock out anyone who needs access. The more complicated you make your sharing situation, the higher the chance of an error where the world (or maybe family members) gain access to your files. We’ve all seen the news stories where a database or collection of documents fell into the wrong hands because someone didn’t apply the proper security. Some companies won’t take the risk: One of my clients required me to get a new email address on their domain to share their Google Docs.

In addition to Google Workspace and OneDrive, there are more than a dozen different providers of personal file sharing services, including Dropbox, Box, and Apple’s iCloud. Many of these are free or almost for minimal use. But if you’re considering these services, everyone in your subgroups should use two-factor authentication (like Authy) to access them, not just a username and password. Still, they’re often second-rate when it comes to user experience (Dropbox’s collaboration features can be confusing, iCloud and Windows have a complicated relationship, and Box’s file preview feature doesn’t do a great job). They are suitable for one-time file sharing or sharing files on your own devices, but they are not my preferred solution.

Instead, consider a cloud-based enterprise file sharing service, one that adds more layers of protection by encrypting your data and has fine-tuned access controls. Egnyte, SecureDocs, ShareFile, and SugarSync are just some of the more popular services; here’s a chart with a rough comparison of how much they cost and what they offer to get started:

Popular secure file sharing services compared

Supplier Monthly prices Maximum file upload Free trial Application integration
Supplier Monthly prices Maximum file upload Free trial Application integration
Egnyte $20/user 100GB 15 days Advanced
SecureDocs $250 for unlimited users Unlimited 14 days Limited
ShareFile/Citrix $50 for unlimited users 100GB 30 days Advanced
SugarSync $55 for 3 users 300 GB for web clients 30 days* Limited

*Credit card required to activate free trial

Regardless of which one you choose, here’s what to look for when researching a secure file-sharing service:

  • Automatic file sync for all users on all devices, including integration with Windows Explorer and MacOS’ Finder, so you can browse shared folders and keep local copies for quick access.
  • Support for Android, iOS and web clients to browse shared folders and folders on the go.
  • End-to-end encryption. If someone manages to download your files without your login, they shouldn’t be able to do anything with it. ShareFile also has an Outlook plug-in as an extra feature that encrypts your files.
  • Extra login security. SecureDocs requires additional authentication for all of its logins by default, while the others I mention have this as an option. Setting this up is as easy as scanning a QR code in a smartphone app, as shown below:

  • Easy to disable public sharing options, or that they make it difficult to inadvertently choose to share publicly.
  • Customizable permissions and access rights to make sure the right people share the right file collections. For example, Egnyte has numerous controls to add a password to your file, allow or disable downloads, and notifications, as you can see in the screenshot below:

  • Audit trails to find out and fix when someone accidentally shares a file across the Internet, or so you can quickly delete a shared file when it’s no longer needed.

Many of these products have free trials (of the ones I mention above, except SugarSync don’t require payment details), and you can use those periods to evaluate them. By asking yourself these questions, you can also choose:

  • Do you regularly share very large files?, such as videos or illustrated PowerPoint documents? Some services set limits for individual files; For example, SugarSync has a limit on the upload size of web clients.
  • What other software tools work with the file sharing service?? Some (like Egnyte) integrate with Salesforce, Google Workspace, and Slack, making file sharing easier to use as part of your regular workflows. Check the fine print if this is important to you.
  • Do you need a room?? Some services provide a common shared “data room” which can be the cloud equivalent of a shared network file server. ShareFile and SecureDocs both offer unlimited space for their shared rooms. Others, like Egnyte, limit the room to 1TB, which is still a lot of storage space if you’re not a video producer.
  • What other specialized services do you need?? Some services integrate with electronic signature apps (ShareFile works with Citrix’ RightSignature), enable custom workflows (such as document approvals), and other tasks that can save real-time in a corporate environment.

Using an enterprise sharing service will require some customization, but I think they’re worth it to get extra peace of mind, better security, and collaboration features.