Enterprise file sharing: Should IT drop Dropbox?

Businesses must contend with employees using consumer file-sharing apps, like Dropbox, for enterprise file-sharing tools, and decide whether the benefits outweigh security risks.

Thanks to the consumerization of IT and bring-your-own-device (BYOD) trends, businesses must grapple with employees using applications and devices in the workplace for enterprise file sharing that may be ready for the consumer space, but not the workplace.

File-sharing applications -- like Dropbox -- have IT shuddering at the thought of corporate information being taken out of the enterprises' hands and placed into a cloud environment. Network administrators are beginning to consider the security implications for internal file transferring and sharing, and are debating ditching the "free" file-sharing applications in favor of more enterprise-friendly file-sharing platforms.

'Free' tools for enterprise file sharing can come with a price

Enterprises need the ability to govern their own data at all times. Such information governance includes tracking who is sending data and where it is being sent -- a feature many consumer-grade file-sharing applications do not offer, said Dave Suffecool, director of solutions architects at Seeburger Inc., an Atlanta-based business-to-business integration company.

Data classification and encryption are the first steps IT can take towards securing their data during file sharing.

John Pironti,
president of consultancy, IP Architects LLC

Some file-sharing applications cannot protect enterprises against data leaks, as these tools do not not guarantee data security and may even sell the uploaded information to third parties for advertising opportunities, Suffecool said.

"Even the so-called free [consumer] file-sharing tools are not free," said John Pironti, president of consultancy IP Architects LLC., noting that many file-sharing contracts and terms of service for applications like Dropbox specify data may not be kept private.

While consumer-based companies like Dropbox may not be working to develop an enterprise-grade file-sharing platform, there is a market need.

Enterprise-grade file-sharing tools can be worth the added expense to businesses with sensitive data, and businesses are willing to pay to secure their data. VMware has developed Project Octopus, an application that enables secure file sharing from any device for users internal -- as well as external -- to the company and can operate within an enterprises' public, private or hybrid cloud environment, said John Robb, senior director of products and marketing at Palo Alto, Calif.-based VMware Inc.

"Employees like user-friendly tools like Dropbox, and [enterprises] want a flexible, business-grade competitor application that is not only easy to deploy and manage, but will provide their users with a similar experience," Robb said.

Project Octopus encrypts data at the network level, and allows IT to manage any data transferred, he noted.

Enterprise file sharing starts with education, encryption

Network administrators are debating whether blocking Dropbox altogether -- and other similar file-sharing platforms -- could put the brakes on unnecessary data leaks.

There are already secure ways for enterprises to share files -- like email or thumb drives, said Jon Oltsik, senior principal analyst at Milford, Mass.-based Enterprise Strategy Group, noting that if a business use case cannot be specifically established for Dropbox, IT may want to consider blocking the application.

More on enterprise file sharing:

How to implement secure enterprise file sharing

Enterprise file sharing in the cloud: IT gains more control

Using Dropbox for enterprise file sharing

IBM recently announced a company-wide Dropbox ban in order to mitigate potential data leaks, but blocking applications is not the answer, Pironti said.

File sharing is an important collaboration feature for the enterprises as more employees work remotely and branch offices spread out. With the right policies and level of control in place, businesses can benefit from data sharing without looming security implications, Pironti noted.

"Data classification and encryption are the first steps IT can take towards securing their data during file sharing," he said.

Enterprises should classify data in terms of its sensitivity to determine whether or not it can be moved into a public domain environment, Pironti said, noting that data encryption is an option for businesses looking to secure their information within applications that leverage the public cloud -- like Dropbox.

"I think [network administrators] need to [be] better about helping users understand why losing control of data can be dangerous," he said. "Not all data is created equal, and the enterprise must determine whether the benefits [of consumer tools like Dropbox] outweigh the risk ."

Let us know what you think about the story; email: Gina Narcisi, News Writer.

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