We live in age of abundant information, and a veritable cornucopia of data can be at virtually anyone’s fingertips at the press of a few buttons. But against this landscape of unlimited opportunity there lie many risks, visible and hidden, which can compromise valuable and mission critical data in an instant, from hacking and malware to unauthorised access and accidental loss/deletion or distribution
In the face of such risks to your business and personal data, it may be tempting to revert to the ways of the past and use printed paper methods to keep your important data safe. But doing so may actually expose you to even greater dangers.
The risk of paper
When considering the level of risk posed by any technology old or new, it’s helpful to quantify and make concrete the actual threats involved. With that in mind here are five risks posed by the risks of paper documents. The security risks of paper should be considered particularly in light of a recent survey that revealed that 58% of employees still print and sign and documents manually as a matter of routine.
1. Theft – While digital documents may be at risk from hackers who gain access to your computer networks, paper documents can be quite literally stolen from under your nose. The greatest risk perhaps here is that while a digital file can be encrypted and passworded, its printed counterpart can be viewed instantly and without impedance by anyone who manages to gain physical access to it. While it is of course possible to put your documents in a safe, if you have a large amount of data this is unlikely to be practical.
2. Destruction – Digital documents can be easily backed up to the cloud and stored securely in multiple places. Paper records on the other hand are susceptible to destruction and loss in the event of a fire or other calamity, and keeping multiple copies in separate locations can further increase the security risk.
3. Ease of unauthorised access/sharing – Paper documents can be easily passed from one person to another, quite removed from proper protocol or legitimate access rights. Even if they are not intentionally shared, if left around carelessly they can be viewed, stolen or copied. This can harm your business in a number of ways, and in some cases may even incur significant financial penalties.
With electronic documents on the other hand, it is quite simple to set these up so that only authorised individuals can gain access or shared (using permission rights, as implementable using tools such as Power PDF). Futhermore sharing can be monitored, so that you know that only those that are cleared to do so can access the documents.
4. Changes can’t be tracked – If documents are passed from one person to another during your business processes, with paper copies it can be impossible to tell who has made edits, what edits have been made, and whether the document you hold in your hand is actually as it should be. With digital PDF software, it is possible to track even the smallest changes, and electronically sign documents so that unauthorised tampering will render them void.
5. Careless disposal – Most data has a finite lifespan, and the end of its lifespan can be a particular moment for vulnerability, and one that those who wish to steal it are only too well aware of. Electronic records can be digitally shredded and removed so that they can never be accessed or retrieved again. At the opposite end of the spectrum, if you do want to keep your documents ‘forever’, paper is at risk of perishing, while there are digital PDF formats which are specifically designed to stand the test of time.
These are just some of the reasons why it makes good sense from a security perspective to abandon paper and use electronic records exclusively for all your critical data. But there are many more reasons why should consider making your office a paperless one, from preserving the environment to cutting your administrative costs and increasing productivity.