It’s not just about sexy pictures.

When we talk about “sensitive” files some people’s minds tend to go to all the stories they hear about nude photos and sex tapes.

But it’s about more than that. A file can be considered sensitive for many reasons.

It can also cover confidential documents, financial statements, medical records, and many others. Basically it’s anything that you wouldn’t want everyone to see.

When you think about it that way, every one of us has some files that we consider to be sensitive. Files that we would hate to end up in the wrong hands.

This brings me to my second dose of reality. When we hear about hackers that expose celebrity pictures and other major data breaches, we rarely think about our own sensitive files. How often do we think “if it happens to them, it can happen to me?”

It can happen to you

My intention isn’t to be a scaremonger. I merely want to illustrate a realistic scenario. Our sensitive files are important to us and protecting them by any means is paramount.

We assume that maybe we just aren’t important enough to hack, that no one would want our files…but can you really take that chance? We know that the average person does indeed get hacked on a regular basis.

So no more false modesty that you aren’t important enough to hack.

Cybercrime is a booming business and it will cost the world $2 trillion (yes, that’s trillion with a “T”) by 2019.

Hackers are willing to expose much more than you already do in any sexy picture you might have. All your sensitive files are at risk.

Can’t control your files at all times, can you?

This is the point where most readers start changing their passwords and putting in every security measure available to them. Just lock down everything behind a thousand deadbolts and those sensitive files are safe!

That’s not realistic.

Yes, of course you should take proper security measures to protect the files on your devices. Absolutely go ahead and add necessary safeguards to protect your phone and laptop.

But…

But what if you actually want to share those sensitive files with someone?

What if, for example, you have to send your accountant some of your financial documents? Or your boss the merger contract? Or that special someone that special picture?

What then?

You might be tempted to just say that you would hand deliver any sensitive files you want to share.

But that’s silly.

This isn’t 1993, no one hand delivers anything.

We want to get what we want where we want it instantly…and even sooner than that if possible.

Plus you aren’t hand delivering files to New York when you’re in Los Angeles.

There will be times where you will absolutely need to share sensitive files and you can’t pretend otherwise. Much like releasing your kids to the wild world of college, there will come a point where your sensitive files will have to “leave the nest” so to speak.

Sharing is caring…but don’t care too much

Sharing doesn’t mean giving away.

Think about when you were a kid and you shared your toys with other kids in the park. It’s not like you just left the toys on the bench and walked away. You weren’t giving away your toys; you were just letting the other kids play with them.

But we don’t apply this to our digital lives.

What do I mean? Think about how you share files. You attach it in an email, you send it by text, put it on social media, or you use some unsecure third-party file sharing tool.

Just like how an open front door makes it easy for a thief to break into a house, sharing files in these ways makes it easy for hackers to get your sensitive files.

You might as well be putting the file on a park bench and walking away.

There can only be one…but in reality there’s a dozen

One copy. That’s all it takes.

One copy of a sensitive file is all you need for you to lose full control forever. You already know this, it’s common sense. What you might not realize is how often files are digitally copied.

Like I said, share the wrong way and you might as well be opening the door to your digital house.

As an example, you might think attaching files in an email only sends that one original file but in reality a copy of that attached file is made when it goes through the email providers’ servers.

What about social media? Most people think that Snapchat is secure because the file is deleted after a certain period of time. But even Snapchat’s Terms of Service indicates that they might make copies of the files that are transferred.

Sharing directly from your phone gets complicated too. Remember the famous celebrity photo leak from a few years ago? Most of them didn’t realize that a copy of their photos had ended up in iCloud and that’s where the leaks came from.

That’s just part of the issue here. Many services make copies of your files and if you aren’t aware then there will be more versions of your sensitive file than you would like.

The problem: hackers know how all these systems work. They know when copies are made and how to exploit them.

Your job: don’t make it easy for hackers to access your sensitive files. Don’t make it easy when it’s stored on your device and don’t make it easy when you’re sharing them.

Protect every step of the way

You wouldn’t wear a seatbelt for only half of a car ride so it makes no sense that you’d only protect sensitive files half the time.

The key is to maintain the same level of security for your files all the way through. You secure your computer and you should secure the sharing process too.

There are many options available to share files securely.

First of all, be aware of any services that make copies of your files. Don’t have more copies of your sensitive files than absolutely necessary.

Secondly, look for common secure sharing features like encryption, 2-factor authentication, and password protection. Go even further with shares that have expiration settings. And always look for the ability to retract a share.

Make sure that not only will your intended target be able to access your shared content but also that if they’re careless, if they accidentally forward it to someone or leave it open on a public computer, that the protection still exists.

Protect shared content in such a way that no one else will be able to access your sensitive files.

The new digital normal

It might seem hard to believe in 2017 but there was a time when people left their doors unlocked. When things were more innocent (and safer) it was a common practice to not bother locking your door.

Of course, things have changed.

Now you lock the door, put in the deadbolt, and set the alarm. We even have camera doorbells to let us know who’s at our door.

You have to adapt to the environment around you.

In the same way, we have to adapt our digital lives to protect ourselves from cybercrime. Sure, you might not go through too much trouble to protect your grocery list but when it comes to your sensitive files you absolutely must take every precaution available to you.

Unfortunately, this is the way things are today. So make sure you don’t take online security for granted when you share your files, otherwise you’ll be exposing all your sensitive files.

Including all your naked pictures.