Building web pages that securely submit scanned forms and documents

Purpose

University departments often are required to provide their constituents with a facility that allows them to send scanned images of completed, physical forms to departmental staff, usually from a web page to a departmental e-mail account.  This page describes the standard mechanism that should be used by web content developers to securely address this requirement.

Note – the form documents to which we refer are not web forms where data is manually entered by the user field-by-field directly into a web page.  Rather, we are referring to standard Microsoft Word or Adobe .pdf document files that are filled in by the user within the Word or Adobe environment, printed, signed, scanned and uploaded.

Description

In a typical web-based, “document upload” implementation, a user clicks a button on the page to indicate that one or more documents are to be uploaded.  After the button is clicked, the user is presented with a file selection window to pick the file(s) to be uploaded.  Once the file or files have been selected, the user clicks a button to begin the document transfer.  The documents often are transmitted via an e-mail to a predefined departmental e-mail box where departmental personnel can pick up the documents.

Unfortunately, when an uploaded documents contains information that is sensitive in nature, this method cannot be used, since e-mail is not a secure method of exchanging sensitive information, and the use of e-mail in this case would not be consistent with University policy.

To overcome the security issues associated with an e-mail-based approach, UCT has developed a mechanism for uploading sensitive documents from within a UHCL web page that combines the simplicity of an e-mail-based solution with the security of modern encryption techniques.  The key to this solution is the implementation of software, called “Gpg4win”, that allows users and applications to exchange data in a secure manner using encryption technology.  With Gpg4win installed, files holding sensitive data can be encrypted and decrypted where necessary throughout the business process in the following ways:

  • Transparently from within Microsoft Outlook, or
  • Manually, using Gpg4win commands either entered through a command line interface or coded into an application program or web page.

Gpg4win also performs other encryption-based functions, such as the digital signing of documents, and the verification of those signatures that can be useful, but are not integral parts of the web-based, document upload process.

Standard

If your department needs to provide a mechanism that allows users to upload documents containing sensitive data, contact the OU support team to review your document upload requirements and to help you integrate the secure upload function into your web content and business process.  With this solution in place, the encrypted document that is uploaded from an enabled web page will be delivered to department personnel via e-mail.

Since, in most cases there will be more than one individual in a department who may be responsible for processing uploaded, encrypted forms, the same set of encryption keys may be shared by all department members who are authorized to decrypt the incoming forms. 

We have developed a guide for installing and using Gpg4win on the computers that will receive the encrypted documents.

Gpg4win Installation Document