Maybe this has happened to you: it’s the middle of tax season and you need to get that one form back from your client. Why not just have them email it to you? It’s quick and easy; all they need is to send it as an attachment. The problem is tax documents contain sensitive information that identity thieves would love to get their hands on. Email as a secure file transfer method is a contradiction in terms. Consider the following:
- Email is never really secure; even over HTTPS connections. For instance, if you or your clients are using a third party email service, you can’t be certain that your data is encrypted while it resides on the server like with a file sharing service. Some email providers do not even encrypt emails during transmission which makes them even less secure.
- Also, sending an email is like sending a postcard. Every person (or in this case, server) that handles the message can see its contents. Yes, this even includes PDF attachments.
- Consider the other guy. Sure you might have gone to extra lengths to make your email system secure, but what about those in direct communication with you? Or the other people they are emailing? When you use a trusted email provider to transfer sensitive information, you can’t be certain that your recipients take the same amount of care. Once your information leaves your outbox, all bets are off.
Alternatives to email
Obviously, there are better ways of handling secure file transfers. Here are just a few alternatives:
- Just come in to the office. Sure it’s inconvenient (and it may be impossible) but bringing paper documents into an office to be scanned and stored in-house is a very safe bet.
- Encrypt your files using software like 7Zip or TrueCrypt. Whatever you choose to do with your digital file, encryption is a safe and secure way of keeping your file under lock and key. Just make sure you use a strong and client-specific password when setting the encryption. Then only communicate the password to clients over the phone.
- Use popular commercial file sharing tools. Many individuals already use Dropbox, Google Drive, or iCloud. While it might not be convenient to use in the long-term, if you’re in a pinch, these services can get the job done.
- Use enterprise-level software like Portal or File Share to minimize the risk even further. Plan ahead and set up accounts for your clients before you need to use them so that when the time comes to get your files in a hurry, half your work is done.