This year, I have become much more aware of how much of my personal data is out in the world, and how much of it is collected and monetized by corporations. This is not going to be a rant on that subject, though. Instead, I want to introduce you all to a new resource for writing and collaborating online, https://www.skiff.org/
Skiff is an online writing platform where you can create text documents and collaborate in real-time on those documents. Currently, you can only upload docx and pdf files, but in the company’s white paper, they indicate that presentations and spreadsheets may eventually make it to the platform.
Right now, you are probably thinking “Great, but can’t I do this and more by using Google Docs and/or Microsoft 365?” And, in some sense, you would be correct. But where Skiff truly shines is in its security features. When you log onto Skiff’s homepage, you are presented with their claim that they are “the only end-to-end encrypted document collaboration platform with password protected folders, expiring links, and secure workspaces.” But how does their platform work in practice?
To experience Skiff myself, I had to request access to their beta. When I signed up, I was a few thousand back in line. However, within days I was able to create my account and start taking a look.
First of all, the account security and end-to-end encryption on Skiff is pretty robust for an application whose sole purpose is online document creation and collaboration. Because you can upload docx and pdf files, you could realistically use Skiff for secure document storage as well as online writing. I don’t think that the Skiff team wants to market their product as a simple storage solution, but it is a major selling point, in my opinion.
Skiff allows users to set up 2-factor authentication (2FA). Like most 2FA-enabled programs, you can use the authenticator of your choice, and will then have to enter a 6-digit code to log into your Skiff dashboard. The setup was smooth and everything works without a hitch. As an added layer of security to your 2FA, Skiff provides you with 10 single-use 2FA backup codes, in case you lose access to your authenticator or do not have it in an emergency. To me, this is one of the best account-level security features that Skiff boasts, as you have multiple means of accessing your account without compromising your security.
Here is where it is worth saying: you should store backup codes in a secure, preferably non-digital space (that’s right, you may just need to write these down). If you lose your backup codes and every other means of accessing your account, Skiff will not be able to help you. Security is a two-way street; if you want the account to be truly secure, then security responsibilities rest with you.
Additionally, Skiff offers a unique verification phrase. This allows you, the user, to verify the validity of an account. The unique verification phrases also ensure that when users connect, they can be assured that they are collaborating in a secure environment.
Finally, Skiff presents users with a one-time account recovery key, which you can use to fully recover your account. If you have any qualms with this, though, it is also worth noting that you can fully disable Account Recovery in your user settings.
Document-Level Security and In-Document Features
In addition to the security features on your Skiff account, the application also allows for some document-level protection. Some of the security features can be found on Google Docs or Microsoft 365, however, they are emphasized on Skiff’s toolbars. Skiff presents users with two toolbars: one for security purposes and one that is a fairly standard word-processing toolbar (font, highlighting features, etc).
On the security toolbar, there is a share button, where you can share your work with other Skiff users. You also have the ability to share your document anywhere online via a generated link, and those with the link will not need a Skiff account to access it. If you are sharing your document with other Skiff users, you have two options: Editor or Viewer. What becomes unique about Skiff is that you have the option to give viewers a window of access to the document.
For example, let’s say I am asking someone to give some input on a document in progress, but I don’t want them to be able to alter the document OR be able to continue viewing the changes that are made based on their suggestions. This scenario applies to my own life because I am a negotiator on behalf of my union’s bargaining team - we want some specific input from union members, on specific documents, but for confidentiality reasons, members should not have unlimited access to the document. Skiff allows you to only give viewers access for a set amount of time. In my case, I could have members review changes I made, but only for the window in which I am accepting input. This feature has a lot of potential uses in real-world workspaces.
Following the sharing and permissions buttons on the security toolbar, there is a “watermark” option. While watermarks can be done in most applications, Skiff’s watermarking feature is prominent and easy to use. If something needs to be marked “draft” or “confidential,” that goal can be easily accomplished.
Finally, there is a padlock icon on the security toolbar that allows you to password protect a document. That is pretty straightforward - people accessing your document would also need the requisite password. When you look at the combined options available, Skiff has the potential to be one of the most secure platforms for document sharing.
As for the In-Document Features, Skiff works like a “lite” version of both Google Docs and Microsoft 365. It is completely functional as a basic word processor but does not have anywhere near the same number of features as other programs (yet). Because the project is still in beta, I suspect that this will change. Regardless, if you are simply drafting a document and are concerned about security, I think Skiff is a great resource. After all, you can always copy your initial work here to another application if necessary.
As for collaboration, Skiff allows for people to create collaborative “groups” and allows for commenting features on documents similar to Google Docs. They are not reinventing the wheel here, but the features are completely functional.
- Security - 9/10
- User Friendliness: 8/10
- Writing and Editing Features: 7/10
- Collaboration Features: 8/10
There is room for growth with Skiff, but it is a security-rich program that is worth looking into. I am personally eager to see how Skiff will evolve. As someone who is interested in security and decentralized applications, Skiff holds a lot of potential for me. I have drafted and will continue to draft, Publish0x articles and other pieces of writing on the platform. I will also update my Skiff observations as necessary.