How to send documents securely over the internet

Which hardware device connects your network to the internet

If you’ve been trying to find out how to send documents securely over the internet, this is a must-read article since it contains five convenient and safe ways of transferring files online.

Whether you work for a legal firm or you are a banker, you need to protect confidential data from unauthorized access as much as you can.

Since file sharing often occurs online, you need to familiarize yourself with some of the safest ways to transfer sensitive documents over the internet.

For this, encryption is a widely preferred method as it keeps your incredibly important data safe from cyber-attacks.

Below, we have provided an in-depth explanation of how you can password-protect or encrypt your document to transfer it in a secure way.

Table of Contents

  1. How to send documents securely over the internet
    1. Password protect your files
    2. Sharing files via Google Drive
    3. Use file encryption
    4. Encrypt a file with PGP encryption
    5. Sharing files using File Transfer Protocols
  2. Wrap up

How to send documents securely over the internet

Password protect your files

Using a password to secure your sensitive information is no secret. It’s usually the first option most people opt for since it’s easier and faster than its alternatives.

That is, with only limited computer knowledge, users are able to password-protect their files and share them over the internet.

However, as easy as it may sound, it’s usually the least preferred method of sending and receiving confidential data online. This is primarily because many users who receive password-protected files don’t know how to unlock and view them.

And therefore, you can’t expect that they will send back the important files after applying for password protection.

In short, if the other person is unaware of this security process, your privacy will be compromised. This makes it a less convenient and more risky method of securing your data online.

In addition, passwords are relatively easy to guess and break, given that most users tend to use simple 4-digit ones, so they can remember them in the future.

Lastly, unlike other security processes, password protection doesn’t allow the sender to know who has accessed or opened the shared document. Hence, many organizations don’t rely on passwords for sharing their private data.

Although not the ideal way of sharing files, you can still employ password protection in combination with other security means like document tracking for additional safety.

Since the most commonly shared file type in an email is a Word document, below, we have described how you can password-protect it:

  • Open or create the file you want to send;
  • Go to the “File” option in the topmost left corner of Word and choose “Save As” from the left pane. Browse and select your desired location to save your document;

 

  • Now, tap on the “File” option in Word and click on “Info” in the left pane;
  • In the Info section, click on the lock and key icon located beside the “Protect Document” option;

 

  • Next, tap on “Encrypt with Password” in the menu;

 

  • An “Encrypt Document” window will appear on your computer screen, type in and confirm your desired password. Set a complex password, including alphanumeric keys and both lower and uppercase letters;
  • Finally, click “Ok” to password-protect your Word document. Remember, the password you set is unrecoverable, so write it down somewhere to avoid forgetting it in the future.

 

Sharing files via Google Drive

Google Drive is a cloud file sharing platform that provides free storage and secure file sharing facilities.

The two best things about using Drive to transfer files are: It’s easily accessible, i.e., you just have to sign in to your Gmail account to view the document, and it’s highly compatible with all devices.

Moreover, the Google Drive utility gives you complete control over who can edit and view the shared files. And the selected recipient will be able to effortlessly edit the document contents via various Editors suites.

The main problem with Drive is that it offers a limited space of 25 MB for attachments. Hence, it’s not an efficient file sharing solution if you have to regularly transfer large files.

Furthermore, it doesn’t feature an inherent password or encryption system to protect your data online. Still, you can use it as a secure means of sharing data since it allows you to track changes and revisions in your shared files.

Here’s how you can utilize Google Drive to transfer files over an email:

  • Visit your Google Drive account and right-click on the file you want to share;
  • Select the “Share” option from the menu;

 

  • A new window will open up. Add the emails of the people with whom you want to share your documents;
  • Tap on the down arrow button next to the emails and choose what people can do to the shared content;
  • Check on the “Notify people” box if you want to notify them via email. You can also type a message if you want;
  • Lastly, hit the “Share” button to send the file to the chosen recipient.

 

Besides the Drive app, you can also use other cloud storage services to transfer big files, such as Dropbox, OneDrive, Amazon Drive, iCloud Drive, iCloud, etc.

Many of these can provide a whopping 20 GB of free storage.

Use file encryption

Encryption is a popular way of ciphering plain data, so the jumbled text is only decipherable by intended parties.

The process is pretty complicated as it takes the easily readable text and converts it into random, inarticulate text. While the encrypted data appears illogical, it can be decrypted into legible data by using the right key.

File encryption protects sensitive data against malicious behaviors, so hackers, Internet service providers, and marketing companies are unable to steal and read your private documents.

It ensures that the data at rest or transit is safe from unauthorized access and that the transmitted data reaches the recipient without tampering.

Luckily, if you are a Windows user, you can make use of the built-in EFS (Encrypted File System), which will enable you to encrypt your data with ease.

The following steps demonstrate how you can encrypt a file or folder using Windows EFS:

Note: There’s no way to recover a lost encrypted file password, so remember to back up your encrypted data into a removable media.

  • Locate the file or document that you need to encrypt;
  • Right-click on the file and tap on “Properties” from the menu;

 

  • In the General tab window, click on the “Advanced” button;

 

  • A new window named “Advanced Attributes” will open up. Check the “Encrypt contents to secure data” box, then click “Ok“. This will take you back to the main properties window;

 

  • Click on “Apply“, followed by “Ok“;

 

  • Select your desired option in the “Confirm attribute changes” prompt and click “Ok“. At this step, you can either encrypt a single file or choose to encrypt the parent folders as well;

 

  • Finally, back up your file encryption certificate and key as recommended by EFS. As soon as you encrypt your file, a lock will appear on it.

 

Encrypt a file with PGP encryption

Another way of sharing secure messages is PGP (Pretty Good Privacy) Encryption. It’s a powerful encryption tool used by a multitude of organizations, including banks, law firms, high-profile industries, etc.

Initially released in 1991, it has gone through numerous updates to make it an ideal software for file encryption.

Unlike other encryption tools, PGP uses a complex and efficient algorithm to encrypt private data. It employs data compression, user authentication, SSL, and Secure File Transfer Protocol to provide an unbreakable security shield to its users.

Essentially, PGP encryption utilizes two encryption systems for securing data, i.e., symmetric encryption, which uses one cryptographic key to encrypt and decrypt messages, and asymmetric encryption, which uses two separate keys for encryption and decryption.

Here’s how the PGP software sends an encrypted file:

  • PGP creates a complex, one-time-use public session key that is unguessable;
  • It then encrypts the generated session key through the receiver’s public key. The receiver can share its public key with people they want to receive messages from;
  • Finally, the sender puts in their session key, which the receiver can decrypt using their private key.

Mostly used for encrypting emails, one can also use it for email verification. With that said, PGP has limited use as a file-sharing service due to its complex process.

Users of this software need to fully comprehend how it works, so they can circumvent the possibility of corrupting keys.

Moreover, the sender of the file and its receiver should be operating on the same version of the software; otherwise, the security program will not work.

Sharing files using File Transfer Protocols

FTP is an application layer protocol that requires a network system to transfer data between different computers. The client-server enables heavy file transmission with ease and precision.

Moreover, it also facilitates data replication and backup. First defined in the 1970s, the FTP system has undergone major updates to boost its security.

Nonetheless, different kinds of FTPs feature different levels of security. Therefore, one can choose between SFTP, HTTP, WebDAV, etc., according to their safety requirements.

We highly recommend you go for a file transfer protocol that includes data-in-motion encryption, so you can have maximum control over the transferred data.

Wrap up

If you are an individual sharing their confidential information online, you need to have some form of cyber security to ensure your data doesn’t fall into the wrong hands.

For this, you can either employ the cloud storage service as we mentioned above or use the traditional encryption methods to closely guard your online privacy. The choice is yours!

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