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What Is File Security? Best Practices & Tools for Security

by Chris Brook on Tuesday October 3, 2023

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File security is integral to effective cybersecurity. In today's blog, we dig into the difference between file security and data security, best practices, and tools to implement for file security.

Almost all communications, messages, and transactions that underpin modern digital society are mediated through or eventually stored in files. Files often contain crucial personal and business information that needs to be safeguarded to preserve privacy and competitive advantage. 

Naturally, file security is one of the centerpieces of effective cybersecurity. 

What Is File Security?

File security involves protecting files from unauthorized access, illegal tampering, deletion, damage, and degradation. It encompasses the stringent measures, controls, and governance policies implemented to safeguard files. File security is typically used on documents containing sensitive personal data, business-critical information, and even state secrets. 

Files come in different forms: documents, audio, video, and database files. Organizations must regularly engage in enterprise file sharing with different stakeholders and partners working on various projects. However, this exposes files to risk, especially when being transmitted outside corporate networks or uploaded from a local computer to a remote server.

Like document security, embracing file security protects sensitive information such as personally identifiable information (PII), intellectual property (IP), and corporate secrets (not only propriety information but also server log files).

The Difference Between File Security and Data Security

File security is a subset of data security, so there are bound to be areas of overlap between the two. While data security represents a more comprehensive and broader approach, file-level security centers on the file as an integral part of an organization’s data inventory. 

In terms of terminology, files are the basic unit of data storage. For reference and convenience, file systems are arranged in a hierarchical fashion on disk data storage. Files are grouped in folders or directories, much like namespaces are used to identify a scope of identifiers in computer programming. 

File security incorporates the features of the file directory system. While file security encompasses the standard digital protection mechanisms like encryption, it also tilts towards granular user-level permissions to limit access and backup solutions to provide redundancy. 

While file security generally protects the computers in your computer system, data security protects data at rest, in use, and in transit. In addition to file security, data security encompasses digital rights management (DRM) that deals with copyright protection, which might grant a user access but restrict them from copying, printing, or taking screenshots of files. 

Data security is more pertinent for today’s distributed workspaces, with numerous endpoints, IoT, and mobile devices. 

Why Is File Security Important?

File security is important because it makes it more difficult for hackers to achieve their nefarious objectives. File-level security offers you a defense-in-depth mechanism through granular protection. This type of security doesn’t grant full access to a full suite of resources but ensures each individual file is protected within the group.

For instance, while system administrators and DevSecOps can place restrictions on accessing a database, file security adds another layer of hardened security by ensuring each individual file is protected. 

The need for file security is heightened by organizations like financial institutions, government agencies, and those operating in healthcare that handle vast amounts of account records in confidential files.  Without file security, their financial and health data, including social security numbers, can be instantly accessible to anyone who can access the database where they are stored.

In general, file security offers the following benefits:

  • Privacy: File security protects the right to privacy of individuals, especially with regard to healthcare and medical records. This extends to other sensitive and personal data that could be exploited for fraud, blackmail, or identity theft. 
  • Confidentiality: This is tied to privacy because it ensures data remains confidential, preventing it from being accessed by unauthorized individuals. Thus, what should be secret and personal remains as it should.
  • IP protection: Loss of proprietary information undercuts an organization’s competitive advantage. File security protects the documents containing IP and corporate secrets.
  • Compliance: As the importance of data has grown, government agencies over the world have rolled out far-reaching regulations to protect peoples’ data privacy. File security helps avoid penalties and fines arising from non-compliance.
  • Brand reputation: Without adequate file security, data breach damages the reputation of the business in the minds of customers, stakeholders, and the general public. 

The Best Practices, Tools, and Different Approaches to Implement For File Security

Here are some of the approaches, tools, and best practices that enhance file security. 

Strong Passwords Along with Multifactor Authentication

Passwords are typically the last line of protection from unauthorized file access. Strong passwords make it harder for hackers to guess or use brute force to crack user credentials successfully.

Access Control Lists (ACLs)

ACL is at the operating system level and can be used to limit what legitimate users can do with their access to the file system. 

As a list, it specifies those who can have access to a file and the corresponding actions they are allowed to perform. You can use an ACL to allow a group of users to read a file while preventing them from editing it. ACLs use file permissions.

ACL is similar to digital rights management (DRM), which can allow some users to view a document but restrict them from performing other operations on it.  

Implement File Monitoring

Enterprises should have visibility into their file systems, especially for their sensitive and valued resources. In addition to network monitoring for suspicious file transfers, they should use implement always-on security monitoring for sensitive files.

File monitoring should alert and notify the relevant administrators whenever sensitive files are accessed, copied, modified, or deleted. Some tools have remote-wipe capabilities that erase files that have been compromised or moved to unauthorized locations/devices. 

Use Robust Cloud and File Sharing Security Solutions

Sign up for cloud storage platforms, whether SaaS or iPaaS, that protect against malicious uploads by inspecting upload files and blocking malware. These include using file hosting or cloud-based storage solutions to disaster-proof your files. 

These platforms allow users to build their own virtual file cabinets with encrypted files. In addition, they usually provide users the ability to create, use, and store passwords to protect these files.

Organizations should utilize software tools with secure file-sharing capabilities for business enterprises, especially those with secure shell (SSH) capabilities. Software tools like SFTP clients prevent snooping and man-in-the-middle (MitM) attacks during file uploads to remote servers. They do this by encrypting the connection link and authenticating the components involved in the client-server architecture.

Other tools can implement file security by inspecting the HTTP traffic coming to their web and application servers. In fact, some organizations are turning to machine learning to inspect HTTP traffic and identify anomalous behavior, thereby protecting against zero-day attacks. 

Backup and Recovery

A crucial aspect of file security is the ability to automatically backup files in secure offsite and distributed locations in case anything goes wrong. The recovery process is equally important, allowing you to restore files after a disaster or incident that causes service disruption or discontinuity. 

Use of VPNs

The use of virtual private networks has grown in popularity with remote work. Most organizations mandate its use to protect their files and digital assets when employees are working outside corporate networks, especially when browsing on insecure networks, like a coffee shop WiFi. 

How Digital Guardian Secure Collaboration Can Help Fortify Your File Security

Digital Guardian Secure Collaboration is different from traditional file security tools. It employs various mechanisms such as data loss prevention, data classification, enterprise DRM, and cloud access security broker (CASB) tools to ensure top-notch file security. 

Book a demo with us today. 

 

Tags:  Cybersecurity Encryption

Chris Brook

Chris Brook

Chris Brook is the editor of Digital Guardian’s Data Insider blog. He is a cybersecurity writer with nearly 15 years of experience reporting and writing about information security, attending infosec conferences like Black Hat and RSA, and interviewing hackers and security researchers. Prior to joining Digital Guardian–acquired by Fortra in 2021–he helped launch Threatpost, an independent news site that was a leading source of information about IT and business security for hundreds of thousands of professionals worldwide.

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