Cloud File Sync & Sharing: Risks and Solutions (Part 2)

Secure Cloud This blog post is the second in a series on the data risks and solutions available for file sync and sharing services.

Your employees are using file sharing services. Ignoring reality or denying its existence will not change the fact that today’s tech users want to easily share files, and that they will circumvent IT if needed.

Understand the Technology.  Many organizations are using file sync services to share and backup files.  A poor understanding of how file sync services, however, can result in data corruption and loss.

Sync Basics. Most sync services keep a copy of your files on your local machine and in cloud storage, with synchronization happening for files saved in specific directories on your local machine.  In other words, you open and work on files locally.  When you save them in a sync folder (or folder tree), the file will be synchronized with the version in the cloud.  Files may also be used and saved using more traditional upload and download techniques. If you share a file with another person, they will download, or sync, a copy of the file to their local desktop.  This means that if you both are editing a document at the same time, you are both working locally on different copies of the file.  While some sync services offer basic file locking, most will allow the conflict to occur.  Data may be easily lost as each person syncs and overwrites the changes of the other. Better sync services offer multiple level or permissions, allowing you to restrict access to view versus edit.  Some services will also prevent downloading and printing.

Sync versus Backup. File sync is NOT backup.  If you overwrite or delete a file, those changes are synced to the server and to other users.  While some sync services offer version control with a limited ability to retrieve prior versions, most sync services quickly propagate errors and deletions. As such, sync is not a reliable technology for data restores.

When to Sync? Sync and sharing services can be part of a robust business continuity strategy. With near-real time updates, a local or remote service outage does not mean loss of access to files, or loss of operating data. Sync and sharing services are also useful for sharing files with outside parties, provided your users understand the limitations of the service. If you allow the use of sync and share services, however, make sure your team is using a company-owned and managed account and a business grade service.  We will discuss why this is so critical in our next installment.

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