Still Using Desktop Computers for Your File Storage? Understand the Big Risks

July 27, 2016

Brian Ocfemia, Technical Account Manager, Sophicity

This article is posted with permission from Sophicity’s CitySmart blog and shares non-technical, municipal-relevant insights about critical technology issues, focusing on how technology reduces costs, helps better serve citizens, and lessens cybersecurity risks. Sophicity is solely responsible for the article’s content.
This article originally appeared on Sophicity's CitySmart blog.

As we talk to cities at various events and conferences, we sometimes hear that they don’t have a centralized place to access shared files—such as a server or a location in the cloud. That means cities may still store important files on individual desktop computers. Let’s take a step back and look at three major risks in such a situation.

Risk #1: Data backup and disaster recovery
Storing important files on a single computer means that if something happens to that computer then you will lose all of your files. You may occasionally back up files on an external hard drive or flash drive, but relying on a manual process that can be skipped or performed incorrectly is a risk—especially because you may not regularly test those backups. Plus, you’re also relying on a single person’s computer—and that single person may accidentally or purposely delete files without you ever knowing they’re gone. No matter how much you trust that person, they may act as the sole owner of those files—not your city.

Risk #2: Security
A single computer isn’t guaranteed to make sure your files are consistently secured against threats. Employee error (such as clicking on a malicious website link or email attachment) is one of the most common sources of viruses and malware which opens your city up to hackers. With that kind of security hole, a hacker may steal your information or prevent you from accessing your files. Weak or irregularly updated antivirus and antimalware software on a single person’s desktop computer just isn’t enough to adequately protect important city information. No matter how well-intentioned, a single user presents too many security risks if files are primarily stored on their personal desktop computer.

Risk #3: Access
City employees shouldn’t have to rely on one person to give them access to important city files. What if that person is sick or on vacation? What if they get fired or leave their job? Any user who has been granted authorized access to important files should be able to access them in a centralized, neutral location. A single user also has the potential to be arbitrary, whimsical, unavailable, or difficult about giving access to important files—which can be a hindrance to productivity, operations, or answering open records requests.

So, what should you do instead of storing files on a personal desktop computer?

No matter how small your city, you still need to create a place where electronic files are centrally maintained and secured—and where users with authorized access can find these files. Some options (depending on your budget and technology limitations) include:
  • Onsite server with network drives. Essentially, this server works like a central computer that authorized users at your city can access. You store your files here, city staff can access those files just as if they were on their computer, and your IT staff or vendor helps maintain and secure the server.
  • Online file storage services. These services exist in the cloud which means—with the help of your IT staff or vendor—they are secure and accessible (only to authorized users) from any device or location. Use business-class versions of these services—not the consumer-grade versions.
  • Document management system. A document management system will give you a business-class way to store, search, and securely access documents. With a document management system, you’re able to not only centrally store and manage documents but you also get to tag, label, and organize them in ways that will help your day-to-day work (such as more easily responding to open records requests). These systems contain a lot of capabilities that are especially important to city clerks.
If you still want to store files on a computer, then a newer computer will generally offer a lot of room. But that’s still not wise—no matter how much space that computer offers. What’s more important is where the files are located, protecting the files from data loss, and securing who has access to the files. Limiting file access to a single person’s desktop computer is just way too risky for a city.

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