The Hidden Costs of Freemium File Sync and Share Products

Just like there is no free lunch, there isn’t free file sync & share services. The cost is there — employees sharing data in a non-secure way brings risk.

21 August 2014


Consumer file sync and share services (FSS) services are infiltrating the enterprise — a place where they truly don’t belong. In fact, a recent survey by market research firm Harris Interactive highlights this issue.

Harris finds:


  • Forty-six percent of respondents (all information technology executives or influencers) believed their companies were leaking data because of the unmanaged use of file sharing products

Clearly FSS is a growing problem in corporate networks. But the momentum of FSS adoption comes from outside the IT department, from the “freemium” marketing model. The FSS providers lure in consumer end users with a free (at least initially) version of their wares. The consumer adopts the service — and then comes an offer for the “professional” version requiring a paid license.

When “Free” has a Price

“It’s easier than ever to share online content quickly and widely — without it costing us a penny,” writes Richard Anstey, Intralinks’ chief technology officer for Europe, Middle East and Africa, in Information Security Buzz, an online magazine.

Richard continues: “Freemium file sharing tools such as Dropbox allow us to synchronize all of our files across all of our devices and share those files with friends, family and — increasingly — co-workers. While it may be simple and convenient to do so, is it safe?”

Many IT managers are realizing it’s not safe because it presents security, corporate governance and compliance challenges.

Growing Unease Around FSS

So, there is a growing awareness that basic consumer FSS apps create network vulnerabilities. The Harris survey notes:


  • Eighty-four percent of respondents agreed that the adoption of free FSS products by employees creates a potential security problem

Consider this: Do storage companies offer to take our physical goods for free? No. And they don’t just charge us for the space we rent: the price includes security and access control. Likewise, freemium vendors charge for security — or you don’t get it.

So you say you’ve black-listed unapproved FSS apps in your network. It doesn’t matter. They are so simple and attractive that employees just start using them for corporate data. And here’s where freemium starts getting really pricey.

Looking to Information Rights Management

Just as there is no such thing as a free lunch, there also isn’t a free FSS service for businesses. The cost is there, as Richard writes — because having employees store and share sensitive data outside of the enterprise carries the serious risk for noncompliance. Even if an original piece of content is destroyed, there is no way of knowing about — let alone of controlling — all the various copies and versions, which could be sitting in hard drives or unsecured FSS services.

So, what to do? Richard suggests this: “The ideal means of clearing up the potentially damaging digital detritus left behind by employees in their daily work requires that the security, access rights and other controls relative to a file, travel with that file itself.”

In the next blog, we’ll talk more about information rights management. Stay tuned.