Syncing files from a local computer or device to the cloud is a common business practice in today’s mobile-driven world—as common as the Internet, specialty coffee, the App Store, and all the other day-to-day “Can’t-Live-Withouts.” In fact, it is probably the best example of the consumerization of IT for the small business owner. Apps like Dropbox have had a transformative impact on the expectation for accessing digital content. Simply put, the new norm is “full access to all my data from the device of my choosing.”
Over the past few years, the practice of syncing business files to personal devices has evolved from a simple function to a mission-critical solution, required for working outside of a traditional office environment. This is not exactly a shocking transformation given that we live in an on-demand world where it is common for professionals to work remotely and from a variety of devices—laptops, tablets, and smartphones. The transition from brick-and-mortar offices and employer-owned hardware to virtual locations and BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) policy has forever changed how firms operate—for better…and for worse.
File syncing is a here-to-stay solution. Today’s on-the-move professionals demand it because it allows them to work from anywhere on their own local device and access and share files that have been synced to the cloud even when the Internet is not available.
However, while file syncing offers immense value and many conveniences, it also creates its own set of issues—relative to security—that accountants need to consider in their business practice. It’s important to balance the value of syncing files with a firm’s business and compliance requirements. The core issue caused by syncing files to multiple devices is the loss of centralized control. The moment company files are synced to multiple devices, those files are subject to the personal security habits of that user or employee—regardless of whether an employee is working on their own device or one that was firm-issued. What happens if the employee’s device is sold, lost, or stolen? The answer is that company documents go with it…falling into the hands of, well, who knows?
To better understand the risks that come with syncing, it’s always best to provide a real-world peer example. Recently, an accounting firm owner reached out to explain a problem she discovered regarding syncing of sensitive client files, and was seeking some advice on how to handle it. The owner had terminated an employee. The firm adhered to a BYOD work environment, meaning the employee had synced business files directly to her personal laptop and iPad…and once synced, always synced! The employer had not considered the possible issues of a BYOD policy and the impact of syncing client files on these devices. Once the employee was terminated, the firm owner realized that she had lost central control of her firm’s files. She also realized that she had no ability to wipe the files from the ex-staffer’s devices, and that meant office files could end up anywhere, in anyone’s hands.
This real-life example is not uncommon. If an employee in a firm has files synced to his or her devices, what is the process for protecting those files after an employee is terminated, quits, or leaves after seasonal work is complete? As file syncing has gained in popularity, many businesses have felt the pain of losing control. Bottom line, as the guardian of clients’ financial documents, practitioners must establish policies for working with solutions that sync files automatically. The following are a few syncing strategies to help mitigate file security issues down the road.
There is no question that file syncing can increase firm efficiency and staff productivity, but it’s important to understand the risks and potential compromises to data security. It’s time to think before you sync. For accountants, data security is a top priority, so if syncing files is part of the daily process, it may be time to develop new policies to safeguard sensitive and confidential financial information. Follow the five strategies offered in this article to protect yourself from losing control of your files.
Eric Pulaski, CEO and Founder – SmartVault Corporation
With over 20 years of experience in network security systems and a focus on cloud computing, Eric founded SmartVault Corporation in November of 2007, and currently serves as the company’s Chief Executive Officer. Eric has made it his mission to deliver a simple, low-cost document management solution that uses cloud-based technology (low cost) but is centered around integration with applications customers already use, such as QuickBooks® (simple). Reach Eric at firstname.lastname@example.org.