And Why Anonymous Sharing Can Be A Good Thing

So your school has started using SharePoint. And it is going really well. It is easy to share files with everyone in the school, and you have found that being able to access documents from home is really useful. But now you need to share a file with someone outside of the school. How do you do that?

First of all let's consider how you would have done this before Office 365 and SharePoint. You would have written an e-mail and then chosen to attach a file from your local computer. A copy of your chosen file would be created and attached to your e-mail, which would then be sent out across the internet to your recipient. All seems good, but then you think:

  • Oops! I sent the e-mail to the wrong person.
  • I need to update that attachment.
  • I hope the person I sent the e-mail doesn't send it on to someone else.

As you can see the traditional way of sending a document to someone does have some drawbacks, mainly because you end up no longer having any control of the file that you attached. However, we'd probably never think about those drawbacks because "that's the way we 've always done things".

Below we explain how SharePoint gives you more choices for sending attachments beyond the classic 'attaching a file as a copy' to an e-mail. For instructions on exactly how to take advantage of these options, please see Attaching a File in Outlook from SharePoint. These instructions will show you how to both attach files as links (cloud attachments) and attach files as a copy (traditional attachments),  plus links to sharing files directly from SharePoint, and sending Office 365 protected (encrypted) messages.

 

SharePoint - Better Options

So now that we have SharePoint, how does that change things? How can SharePoint improve the way we share files with people outside of our school?

  • Send a link, not a copy

When you want to share a file with someone outside of the school you don't have to attach it as a separate copy to an e-mail. You can just send the person a link to the file and they can access it directly from your SharePoint. That way you only ever have one copy of the file and you retain control over it. However, if you do still need to send a traditional attachment, you can still attach a file as a copy.

  • Choose your level of security

When you share a file via a link you can choose how secure that sharing is. You can share anonymously, or you can make sure that only the person to whom you addressed the e-mail can ever get access.

Anonymous Sharing: Useful when you have a document that doesn't contain any private information and you want to make it easily available to other people. Recipients of the e-mail can just click on the link to the shared document and it opens. Additionally, you can:

    • Put a time limit on the share, for example withdrawing access to the file automatically after 7 days.
    • Make the document read only.
    • Withdraw access at any time.

Sharing with Specific People: Useful when you want to ensure that only the person to whom you sent the e-mail can access the document. When accessing the document, the recipient will be asked either to enter a code that is only ever sent to the address of the original e-mail, or to sign in with a Microsoft account. So even if the e-mail gets forwarded on to someone else, they can never get access to a code to open the document. Additionally, you can:

    • Make the document read only.
    • Withdraw access at any time.

While sharing with specific people might seem like a good choice as it is more secure, the recipient must complete extra steps to prove their identity. As you can imagine, these steps can sometimes go wrong, leading to frustration for both the recipient and sender. Generally, if you are sharing to another Office 365 account, specific sharing will work well. If sharing to other types of e-mail accounts then you are best to share directly from SharePoint, rather than via e-mail, as this will only require the user to enter a code.

If the security of the file you are sharing is a real priority, then consider sending the file as a traditional attachment to an Office 365 protected message. This will encrypt the contents and allow you to prevent forwarding, copying and printing of the e-mail and attachment. The downside is that the recipient cannot edit the original, but it does ensure the best security. Please see How to Send an Encrypted E-mail using Office 365 for instructions on how to send protected Office 365 messages.

  • Share via e-mail or directly from SharePoint

When sharing a file you don't have to go into your e-mail to do it. You can just share the file directly from SharePoint. This can both be easier and can give you more options. You can even share a document as you are working on it. In particular if you have chosen to share a file with a specific person, then sharing the file directly from SharePoint works better than creating an e-mail and choosing to share the file as you are sending the e-mail. You can always include a message when sharing direct form SharePoint, and if necessary you can follow up the share with a separate e-mail. Please see How to Share a File or Folder Directly from SharePoint or OneDrive for instructions on how to do this

 

But I Need To Send A Traditional Attachment

There might be times when you want to send a traditional attachment, rather than just a link. Don't worry, that is still possible. You just have to make sure that you select to add an attachment as a copy, rather than a link. For example, you would need to send a traditional attachment if you were sending an Office 365 protected message.

 

Conclusions

  • Anonymous sharing is better than you might think - it is easy for the recipient to access the attachment, allows quick collaboration and you retain control over the shared file.
  • Specific sharing is more secure, but not as easy for the recipient - the additional steps a recipient has to take to prove their identity may lead to frustration when they access the attachment. Specific sharing works best when sharing with other office 365 accounts (e.g. schools)
  • Share files directly from SharePoint - Get into the habit of sharing files directly from SharePoint to external users, rather than starting from Outlook and adding as an attachment to an e-mail. Sharing directly from SharePoint is easier, provides better options and lets you send a message as part of the sharing process anyway.
  • Use Office 365 e-mail protection if security a real priority - Office 365 has built in e-mail protection that allows you to encrypt e-mails and attachments and prevent recipients from forwarding copying or printing.
  • Consider using Teams if doing lots of collaborative work with external users - If you are having to do a lot of collaborative work with certain users, consider having them added as external users to your Office 365 and giving them access to a dedicated team site for a project or certain area of work. Teams is great for this. Contact Schools ICT to learn more.


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