Cloud file sharing: Secure enough for the CIA, secure enough for you?

Two U.S. government agencies will adopt cloud file sharing and collaboration services. Security concerns? What security concerns?

IT pros who cite data security as a reason not to adopt cloud file sharing and collaboration services may reconsider now that the U.S. intelligence community is getting in on the act.

IT needs to be much more proactive.

Larry Hawes,
founder, Dow Brook Advisory Services

Huddle, a U.K.-based cloud file sharing and collaboration platform, will replace SharePoint for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency. Security is a prime reason why many IT shops have been slow to adopt cloud file sharing and collaboration tools. This partnership, however -- after selecting Huddle, the CIA-backed investment firm In-Q-Tel is now investing in the company -- helps dispel the notion that cloud-based tools aren’t secure enough for adoption.

"One of the most locked-down organizations in the world is putting data on a shared cloud with Huddle," said Terri McClure, an analyst at Enterprise Strategy Group, based in Milford, Mass. "That's why this is a big deal."

If Huddle is secure enough for the U.S. intelligence community, it should be secure enough for any old enterprise, said Larry Hawes, founder of Dow Brook Advisory Services, an enterprise content collaboration consultancy based in Ipswich, Mass.

Other cloud file sharing and collaboration barriers

Security is not the only issue preventing organizations from adopting cloud storage, file sharing and collaboration platforms, however. By the time IT has picked a tool and had a chance to deploy it, many employees will have already begun using other, consumer-oriented services -- which IT then has to rein in.

"Timely procurement of services is a bigger issue than security," Hawes said.

Until recently, the issue of syncing and sharing files across multiple devices outside the corporate firewall wasn't even on IT's radar.

More on cloud file sharing and collaboration services

Consumer cloud storage and collaboration guide

Enterprise cloud file-sharing apps give IT more control over data

Top 10 cloud-based file-sharing terms

"If IT isn't going to offer something like Dropbox, then employees are just going to adopt personal accounts to address this problem," McClure said.

Nearly 50% of employees use personal cloud file sharing and collaboration services, but 77% of organizations do not approve the use of those services, according to Enterprise Strategy Group research.

"IT needs to be much more proactive," Hawes said. "There's data out there, and business people adopt new technologies roughly twice as fast as IT. IT needs to understand why people are using these services without their consent, and then find an acceptable solution that's as easy to use."

Huddle's place in cloud file sharing and collaboration

The Department of Homeland Security and the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency will deploy Huddle in two ways: a typical cloud-based deployment to handle the majority of content, and an on-premises version that won't be networked to the outside world in order to secure and protect the agencies' most sensitive files, said Alastair Mitchell, Huddle's founder and CEO. Huddle is already deployed throughout various European government agencies, including 80% of U.K. government departments, Mitchell said.

Huddle offers native mobile applications for Android and iOS devices, Active Directory integration, bi-directional integration with Outlook, auditing and versioning controls, various IT admin policy settings, homegrown data centers, and algorithms that determine specific files a user could potentially need on a mobile device, and then caches them locally for offline use.

The cloud file sharing and collaboration services market is increasingly crowded, with large enterprise vendors such as VMware Inc., Microsoft and Citrix Systems Inc. duking it out against upstarts such as Box and Dropbox, plus lots of other smaller companies.

In-Q-Tel's undisclosed investment in Huddle will help the company refine its cloud file sharing and collaboration platform to strictly comply with the Federal Information Security Management Act.

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