What is document security?

What is document security?

What is document security?  Whether you are ‘working from home’ or are a ‘remote worker’ travelling the world, you are ultimately responsible for the security of any documents that you create and store.

Thousands of documents are shared daily between colleagues and customers, but do you really understand the importance of securing them? Document security starts from the moment the file is created, stored, backed up, delivered and finally deleted. Whether you are sending documents digitally, or sending them in paper format, your document security processes need to be robust.

What steps can you take to ensure they can only be accessed by the intended recipient?

What is document security?

First of all let’s look at what we mean by document security.  Any document, whether it is a contract letter, a sales report, an accounting report, a pdf, a staffing list, or a draft board report yet to be signed off by the CEO, each of these documents should be secured, stored, and protected securely.  This means using some form of encryption and digital protection. Something that will only allow authorized personnel to open, read, amend, download, or print the document.

As remote teams, and those working from home, need to communicate with each other the scope for the potential loss of documents is on the increase. The necessity to share, store, and share files digitally, is now normal practice. And this will continue to increase as the trend for remote working increases.

Organizations, work-from-home staff, and remote staff positioned globally regularly share digital files. This is done by using software and cloud options such as Dropbox, Salesforce, Slack, or intranets and private cloud environments.  But why should you protect your document?

Why you should protect your documents

If you are working with remote staff or work-from-home staff, who are handling sensitive material can you really take the risk of not applying document security?

  • What would happen if documents were shared with the wrong recipient?
  • What if sensitive material got into the public domain?
  • Could you cope with documents being stolen through hacking?
  • Could your documents be copied and used fraudulently?
  • Do you have to comply with legal regulations such as GDPR?

Features to secure your documents

So what is the best way to secure your document?  There are several steps open to the creator of the document. Each step ensures that from its point of creation, there is some basic level of protection.

  • Password protection
  • Encryption
  • Restricted access
  • Watermark
  • Tracking

Password protection of documents

By adding a password to your document you are ensuring that only those with knowledge of the correct password can access it.  

This is a quick and easy solution. But you also need to consider how you inform those who need to know the password details. How do you store it? How do you disseminate it to the correct audience?

Encryption of documents

Encryption involves the creator adding a ‘key’ to the document.  Access is only possible if the person trying to open the document has access to the correct encryption key. Files, folders and drives can all be protected this way.

Encryption can take place within the Microsoft Office suite advanced attributes or can be provided by external software.

Certain social media platforms such as WhatsApp offer end-to-end encryption for chats. This allows sensitive discussions to take place all whilst automatically being protected by encryption.

Restricted access to documents

This type of security is generally overseen by administrators within larger organizations.  They use a mixture of tools that allow them to control access.  This could be by assigning different permissions to users, roles, or groups.  This ensures that only those that have been correctly authorized can view any sensitive material. 

Watermarking of documents

Again this is a basic step that can be done during the creation of the document.  The watermark can include text or images and can indicate if the document is in draft status, if it is private, if it is proprietary, etc. This is quite a simple security step to use as the creator also creates the text to be included in the watermark.  Images can also be added including things such as logos, trade names, branding, etc.

If tracking is important then consideration around dynamic watermarks should be considered.  This will allow tracking of who created the file, when it was changed, or who even printed a copy of it.

Watermarks can be removed once the document has been signed off by the appropriate person/department and another form of protection added.

Document tracking

Why is tracking useful? If you have software that enables document tracking you can access information, (similar to the dynamic watermarking above) regarding who has viewed, amended, downloaded, or printed the document. Furthermore, this is useful if audits take place to identify the progress of a protected document.

NOTE OF CAUTION:  Even though details regarding the IP address, location, and access may be provided, that does not guarantee who the actual USER was!  Just because a document was opened does not mean it was opened by the user it was intended for.  Do people share computers?  Do staff share passwords? Is equipment left unattended and not locked? A more in-depth investigation may need to be carried out to ascertain who actually saw the data.

What if there is no security on your documents

When the security of a document has been compromised either through being lost, hacked, or opened by the wrong user, then you could be leaving yourself open for litigation.

  • Internal security audits may need to be put in place to identify the cause of the breach.
  • Therefore work may have to be replicated resulting in delays.
  • Sensitive information may be seen by the wrong people, both internal and external.
  • Uncertainty with your working practices may become an issue for external holders and they ultimately lose faith in you..
  • Your company may find itself open to blackmail by hackers.

Do a quick audit and see if your current document security strategy is strong enough to withstand the issues raised in this article.


What is document security?  If you take the time and prioritize document security you will ensure that the confidentiality and security of your work are in place. This will allow for the secure exchange of information and ideas thereby promoting business growth.