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A Guide to Securing Enterprise Document Management Solutions

As paper documents continually become scarcer in the enterprise environment, willingness to trust digital document management solutions (DMS) is gradually overcoming security fears. However, while it’s widely accepted that digital document management is probably more secure than maintaining paper records, complacency can lead to regrettable outcomes. It’s often only after a data security breach that decision-makers in an organization start to consider the need for a proactive and structured approach to digital document protection.

Before your enterprise falls victim to such an incident, it’s a good idea to review DMS security and strengthen it if necessary. The following tips and guidance for securing document management solutions should serve as a helpful basis for your review.

Start with Vulnerability Assessment

The first question to ask when reviewing security of document management is, “what are the most vulnerable elements of the system?”

Has your organization opted to allow employees to access your DMS via their personal mobile devices? If so, this will probably be a primary area of vulnerability and an excellent place to start improving security measures.

In any case, vulnerabilities are likely to be found at any point or instance where your employees:

  • Enter data into documents
  • Share or transfer documents
  • Access documents to work on them

Security vulnerabilities can also exist in document storage locations, making this another critical area to scrutinize and fortify with tighter security if necessary. Security Requires Ownership

Following your assessment of DMS security vulnerabilities, the next step should be to decide who will take ownership of improvements and ongoing security management in your organization. Regardless of your enterprise’s scale, document security needs somebody to own it and be accountable for keeping measures up to date and relevant.

In a larger enterprise, this might be somebody appointed specifically to manage DMS security or a named IT department team member. It could be an IT manager or even the CIO in a smaller business, but under no circumstances should document security be without an accountable individual.

How to Improve BYOD Security for Your DMS

With vulnerabilities identified and document security owner assigned, your team should now be able to start considering how to strengthen protection for your document management solution.

As already mentioned, organizations that have adopted a bring-your-own-device environment are typically exposed to more security risks than those that retain control of employees’ information endpoints.

A full 40% of small-business owners and senior executives cite lost or stolen devices as the cause of their most recent data security breach, according to the 2018 State of the Industry report from document security firm Shred-it. This statistic highlights why your document-security measures will need to prioritize mobile access to your DM solution, if you operate a BYOD policy.

Control Document Access with Permissions

Document management solutions such as SharePoint offer comprehensive control over access rights, but enterprises often implement permissions too broadly and liberally. The prudent approach is to assess the risk posed to document security based on the roles of those accessing the system, and categorize permissions accordingly.

For example, sales staff probably would not need access to the same broad range of document types as managers and executives. Therefore, by limiting the types of documents accessible to sales personnel using permissions, the risk of inadvertent exposure of sensitive documents is reduced. That’s because your organization probably has far fewer executives than sales representatives, and they are possibly less likely to be out and about.

At the same time, it’s possible to go too far in tightening document access. Some enterprises lock their DMS down totally—by denying external document-sharing, for instance. Such an approach can be counterproductive, as employees who cannot share documents via direct access instead download them to unregulated external tools such as Google Drive or Dropbox.

Tie Permissions to Roles

One of the most meaningful steps you can take to enhance security for your documents without impeding employees' mobility is to apply role-based access control (RBAC). You can use RBAC functionality to set permissions for DMS users, determining, for example, what types of documents they can access, and whether they can read or also edit them.

Role-based permissions should be granted to employees based on their level in the organization, duties and responsibilities, and the degree of document security risk associated with their roles. Therefore, it will pay to carry out a targeted risk assessment of role profiles before implementing RBAC.

Other Document Management Security Measures

In addition to controlling access via permissions, several other opportunities exist to protect your enterprise documents from accidental or intentional harm or exposure to unauthorized scrutiny. All will help to protect electronic documentation regardless of whether access is via mobile or office-based endpoint.

Beef up User Authentication

For users to log into applications that grant access to documents, strong passwords are essential. However, password selection is one aspect of DMS use in which users can often be complacent. Therefore, implementing multi-factor authentication is a step worth taking.

Similarly, your DMS tools should be configured to require frequent re-authentication, to guard against unauthorized access to devices left unattended by their users. For mobile devices, biometrics provides an even higher level of sign-in protection.

Use Powerful Encryption Protocols

If your organization operates within the insurance, healthcare, manufacturing, accounting or financial services verticals, document security standards might be enforced by governing bodies in your country or region.

For example, if you share documents via a web portal, you’ll need to protect them with 256-bit advanced encryption standard (AES) and SSL/TSL encryption technology during transmission and storage.

If you’re operating in other industries where standards are not enforced, the same encryption protocols are nevertheless worth considering. Although they may lift your document security above typical standards for your industry, you'll at least have the confidence that robust measures protect your enterprise and customers. It will also ensure you are ready if more stringent governance takes hold in your sector.

WORM Your Way to Document Security

Many DM platforms can lock documents in a write-once-read-many (WORM) format. For maximum security, your policy should be to use this functionality if your DMS supports it. WORM storage will keep your sensitive documents safe from accidental, malicious, or otherwise unwanted alteration, editing, or deletion. Indeed, WORM compliance might be essential if your enterprise documents contain data bound by conventions such as HIPAA or the Sarbanes-Oxley Act.

Your People are a Security Measure Too

The tips and ideas shared in this article will help you beef up security for your document management solution. That said, no amount of technology alone can provide an environment that’s 100% safe.

As long as you have employees accessing your documents, their awareness and understanding of security will influence the risks of document tampering, loss, or release to unauthorized parties.

To ensure maximum security for your enterprise’s data, remember to educate your employees about your security policy and train them in best practices for document protection. The surest path to a secure DMS is through a combination of technology and human discipline.


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Yaroslav Kuflinski

Yaroslav Kuflinski

AI/ML Observer


Member since

17 Apr 2020



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