Gone are the days when protecting a document meant writing it in invisible ink or padlocking your diary. Business documents, whether stored on a PC or in the cloud, frequently contain sensitive data: trade secrets, financial results, contact details for employees and clients, and legal information. Here are some simple tips for keeping your documents secure.
What’s the password?
With modern word processing applications, such as Microsoft Word and Adobe Acrobat, it’s easy to password-protect sensitive documents. If you use Word on Windows 8, simply click ‘File’, then ‘Info for the ‘Protect Document’ drop-down menu, then select ‘Encrypt with Password’. For additional security, choose a password of more than seven characters, containing both letters and numbers.
According to Microsoft, it’s impossible to recover a password-protected document without the password. However, programs like DocRecrypt and Advanced Office Password Recovery make it possible to reverse Microsoft’s encryption process. For this reason, password protection should be seen as a basic security measure that will, at best, inconvenience determined hackers.
Permission to read freely
Many business documents are written to be shared and this often means exposing them to uncontrolled networks. One way to protect a document on the internet is to use a hosting service, like cPanel or Dropbox, to control who has permission to view or edit it. This approach allows small business owners to affordably take advantage of sophisticated encryption techniques.
But first, you have to get the document into the cloud. Some services, including Dropbox, encrypt files on your computer before uploading them. Otherwise, you might consider using a public key encryption service, like DocuSign, to protect your documents with 256-bit SSL encryption – a protocol that would, in theory, take six times the age of the universe to crack.
Under lock and key
If you’ve seen The Imitation Game,then you have a decent idea of what encryption looked like in the middle of the 20th century, when machines like the Enigma were used to turn sensitive information into long strings of gobbledygook.
The modern approach is much the same, except that today’s cryptography uses faster computers and more complex algorithms to create codes that are practically uncrackable. According to Seagate, if every person on the planet used 10 computers simultaneously to test 1 billion key combinations a second, it would still take more than 1 billion billion years to crack a standard 128-bit symmetric key.
The good news is that you can now use encryption programs like GNU Privacy Guard to protect everything from individual documents to computers and servers. Of course, it’s essential that you follow a simple rule: remember the password.
Who watches the watchmen?
Using the above techniques, it’s easy to secure your documents both on and offline. The final choice you make, therefore, will be to decide who knows the passwords for which files. And that, of course, we shall leave to your discretion.