How to share files safely

By Dean Stanbridge

File sharing (peer to peer, or P2P) is a part of life. Because of the size of many video files and even some high-definition photos, using email for these large files is challenging. Many email servers have file size limitations that send most of us to the Internet for help sharing files, but how do we know our files are secure?

Secure file sharing isn’t a new concept. There are dozens of cloud-based services that have helped companies and individuals share files for years. I can remember using File Transfer Protocol (FTP) programs many years ago to transfer a large PowerPoint file. This was a cumbersome and technically challenging process. Unfortunately, the Internet has become an increasingly dangerous place to navigate for those who haven’t kept up on security.

There are hundreds of file-sharing software companies online, but how does the average layman know which ones are safe and reliable? I suppose before we get to safety, some might be asking, why would I need to send files through one of these secure sites? The No. 1 reason for today’s file sharing is entertainment. Music and video files are the most shared files on the Internet, but that doesn’t mean if you aren’t interested in sharing music and videos, you won’t need to use a file-sharing service.

The files we share with our colleagues tend to be video inspections or large photo files. Because most email servers have limited capacity, those who need to share larger files are forced to use file-share service providers to ensure files are securely and efficiently shared.

Not All File-Sharing Programs are Alike

Be cautious when choosing a provider because some of the file-sharing sites are just that — a program you load onto a PC that then permits others to go in and grab files from that same PC. Obviously, this is a dangerous tool because if you haven’t set your default security settings correctly, a thief could grab non-target information.

Because of the risks of wide-open Internet file sharing, I recommend using file-sharing programs with controlled access, which means you can set up temporary or long-term groups that have access to the cloud-managed files. Group members are given an access code, and as changes are made to shared files, the group is advised of an updated copy present in the shared controlled-access cloud.

I’m not qualified to say which programs are the best at achieving this kind of security and convenience, but some of the industry experts recommend the following programs for business types of applications: BoxNet, LiveMesh, Syncplicity and Dropbox are all programs often used by businesses, and they meet all the security and privacy requirements that business owners demand. I’ve used Dropbox for years without any security problems.

No matter the file-sharing needs it’s important to spend some time understanding the risks and benefits of file sharing before diving into these applications. Security and protection of personal information should always be your first priority.