Documents that contain sensitive and proprietary information are subject to theft and misuse, including accidental exposure and dissemination. Some personal and sensitive information may be protected by regulations, such as the Health and Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996. These regulations stipulate what information can be exchanged with who and when.
Some of these regulations also dictate how personal and sensitive information can be stored and secured from unauthorized access. Besides remaining compliant with any applicable regulations, protecting sensitive documents from getting into the wrong hands is critical to establishing trust with all shareholders, including employees, clients, and investors.
Implementing data encryption protocols is one way to protect sensitive information. Encryption can be implemented on networks, within the operating systems of individual computers and email programs, and when sending faxes. For example, a hipaa compliant fax incorporates encryption technology to prevent sensitive information from being intercepted or retrieved over the network. Faxes can also be further restricted by installing separate fax machines for employees who must send and receive faxes that contain personal and sensitive information.
Encryption technology can also be used to secure documents while they are being stored on a network. This prevents unauthorized users from being able to get a hold of the data if they somehow gain access to the network. Many organizations also choose to restrict internal access to information stored on networks, as well as network equipment. These types of procedures can help ensure only those that need access to sensitive information can see and exchange it for work-related purposes.
An efficient way to protect sensitive documents and data is through network-level permissions in addition to an individual computer or client permissions. User authentication can be managed through usernames and passwords as well as more advanced methods such as biometrics and single sign-on or SSO protocols. Network-level permissions can be configured to allow various groups or individual users access to certain data on the network as well as specific resources stored on the network. For instance, sensitive data may be stored in a single network folder that only certain employees can access according to their job function, while other employees would be restricted from accessing the folder and receive an error message on any attempt to access it.
Although it is more difficult to manage individual or client level permissions, group policies can be configured and deployed to computers owned and maintained by the organization. Some of these policies could automatically remove sensitive data from hard drive storage according to predefined intervals, according to regulations or compliance measures. Also, implementing strict password measures and mandatory password changes according to recommended intervals can prevent unauthorized access to sensitive data.
Education and Audits
One of the most critical ways to protect sensitive documents is through training and education. Protocols should be designed to prevent and mitigate social engineering, phishing, malware attacks, and data breaches. Periodic audits should also be conducted to ensure protocols are being followed and as a means of identifying weak points in systemic procedures.
Protecting sensitive documents from falling into the wrong hands is important to prevent identity theft and the loss of intellectual property. Data breaches erode stakeholder trust and can lead to legal or long-term financial consequences for organizations. Implementing encryption and authentication methods, as well as employee training can help prevent unauthorized access.