Most enterprise executives and staffers don’t think twice about e-mailing letters, spreadsheets, and presentation files containing highly confidential material to personal e-mail accounts so they can finish work at night or weekends. They also don’t think twice about the security, or in this case, insecurity of the practice.

What if, for example, a CFO shares his home computer with his children and one accidentally posts a company financial disclosure statement instead of a game tip to a gamer’s listserv? Depending on the timing, which certainly comes into play with quarterly public filings, the CFO’s company could be in big trouble with the SEC. Or what if a hacker compromises the marketing guru’s home computer, which is constantly logged on to the Internet thanks to high-speed access, and snatches something as innocuous as a pamphlet for a new, but unannounced product? Competitors could get tipped off before the company plans to release information.

Since there’s little chance of stopping file sharing these days, what’s a feasible solution to securing enterprise data? In a nutshell, CIOs need to provide users with a way to securely transfer and share office files. In this first article of a two-part discussion on secure collaboration, we’ll detail some of the different approaches and vendors offering security solutions.

The good news: Plenty of options
Fortunately, there are a slew of security products and services to choose from today. Yet these myriad options also create confusion for CIOs, as there are as many approaches to secure file sharing as there are vendors.

One obvious security tactic is the use of a virtual private network (VPN), which lets users access company files, e-mail, network drives, applications, and devices such as printers. But if securing just shared files or accessing data is the primary need, as it is for many companies, implementing a VPN can often be overkill.

That was the case with The Accolade Group, a Toronto company that provides garment-decoration services such as embroidery and silk screen-printing to clothing designers such as Tommy Hilfiger and Roots.

Accolade tracks orders from arrival through shipment and provides this status data to customers. Rather than using a VPN for internal and outside connectivity, Accolade uses VisEdge Gateways from secure remote-connectivity vendor, based in Ontario, Canada. The approach lets a remote user access files and drives over the Internet using common Windows drag-and-drop techniques. The tool also lets customers securely access Accolade’s network over the Internet to check on order status and to share large design files.

“VisEdge is simpler to deploy and use than other private network solutions,” explained Harvey Ngo, Accolade Group’s chief financial and information officer. “[The cost] is about 50 to 75 percent below traditional VPNs, and there is little to no training for our IT personnel.”

Other possible alternatives
Because there are so many options, be prepared to spend some time defining your company’s specific needs, reviewing products’ features, and talking with colleagues about which solutions they’re using.

One of these options is Expertcity Inc.‘s GoToMyPC, a service that gives a remote user browser-based access to any Internet-connected Windows PC. It provides end-to-end AES 128-bit encryption and supports functions like file transfers and remote printing.

To use the service, users do need to download client software, and pricing varies based upon the number of computers accessed. The cost for a single user account to connect to one computer can be as low as $9.95 per month. For an administrator wishing to connect to multiple computers—in the case of tech support, for example—the pricing starts at about $11.50 per machine per month, which decreases as more computers are added.

If your goal is to give multiple users secure access to files or file folders, you might want to look at a service like Mangomind from Westborough, MA-based Mangosoft Inc. As TechRepublic detailed in the previous article “High marks for Mangosoft’s VPN alternative,” Mangomind gives both employees and outsiders access to shared files. Pricing varies depending on the number of users and the amount of disk space. Mangomind Single Drive service includes one Mangomind Internet Drive for up to 5 users with 50 MB of managed Internet storage for $29.95 per month; Mangomind Enterprise, for 10 or more users, includes 10 MB of storage per user and drive administration capabilities for setting up multiple drives for $24.95 per user. Additional Mangomind storage is $19.95 per month per each 50 MB.

More options to come
Keep in mind that the relatively low-cost services like GoToMyPC and Mangomind are limited in what they do, in much the same way that VPNs can provide too much functionality at a higher price. In the second and final article on secured collaboration options, we’ll examine several other alternatives to help you find the right solution for your enterprise.

How are you securing collaboration?

Send us an e-mail about what product or tool you’re using and why you chose it. Or, if you’re still hunting for the right option, start a discussion below to share insight with other TechRepublic members.