Sensitive Data

Sharing Sensitive Data

by Angus Jones

Veritas Technologies, a global leader in data protection, availability and insights, has revealed new research highlighting the dangers of sharing sensitive data by misusing instant messaging and business collaboration tools. In Australia, 66% of employees have admitted to sharing sensitive and business-critical company data using these tools, the survey found.

The Veritas Hidden Threat of Business Collaboration Report polled 12,500 office workers across ten countries, including 1000 in Australia. Shows employees take data out of the businesses’ control that employs them, exposing companies to risk. 53% are saving their own copies of the information they share over IM, while, conversely, 47% of knowledge workers delete it entirely. Either approach could leave companies open to significant fines if regulators ask to see a paper trail.

Sensitive data being shared by employees on these channels includes client information (15%), details on HR issues (10%), contracts (12%), product development information (12%), and even COVID-19 test results (12%).  Just a third of employees suggesting that they hadn’t shared anything that could be compromising. The research also reveals that, while employees use collaboration tools to close deals, process orders and agree on pay raises, many do this despite believing that there will be no formal record of the discussion or agreement. In fact, only 48% thought that the businesses they worked for were saving this information.

According to Geoffrey Coley, Director, Strategy & Architecture, Asia South and Pacific region, at Veritas Technologies, “For many Australians, our entire way of work has been reset since the start of 2020. Companies are rushing to bolster their data protection ways of working to include the platforms where their business is actually being conducted.”

Increased use is compounding issues

The research shows that the challenge is compounded by the amount of time employees are now spending using messaging and collaboration apps.  Time spent on tools such as Zoom and Teams has increased by 21% since the start of the pandemic. This means employees are now spending, on average, 2.3 hours every day on them, with 21% of employees spending more than half their working week on these applications.

A significant amount of business is now being conducted as routine on these channels, and employees are taking agreements as binding. For example, as a result of receiving information over messaging and collaboration tools, 24% of employees have accepted and processed an order, 21% have accepted a reference for a job candidate, and 20% have received a signed version of a contract.

Sensitive data is shared on these tools even though 29% of knowledge workers have been reprimanded by bosses for their use. However, these admonishments may have been in vain as 75% of all workers responding to the survey said that they would share this kind of information in the future.

Geoffrey said: “Getting employees to use ‘approved’ methods of communication and collaboration tools is an uphill battle. Instead, our message is simple: don’t fight it – fix it.”

IM trusted nearly as much as an email

When asked which methods of communication provide the most reliable proof that an agreement is binding, the trust that workers had didn’t appear to be based on the ability of a business to capture the discussion as evidence:

  • Email is viewed as a reliable affirmation of an agreement by 97%, followed by a written letter at 96% and electronic signature a close third at 92%
  • Instant messaging platforms, including Zoom, Slack and Teams, were still trusted by 90%, text by 89% and WhatsApp by 77%
  • 66% even viewed social media as reliable proof that something has been agreed

“Business data is sprawled across different locations. Deals are being done, orders are being processed, and sensitive personnel information is shared through video-conferencing and messaging platforms. It’s now critical for companies to include this rapidly growing volume of data in their protection and compliance envelope.  If they don’t, the implications could be huge,” concluded Geoffrey.

Veritas recommends the following steps for businesses that want to regain control of data being shared over messaging and collaboration tools:
  • Standardise on a set of collaboration and messaging tools that meet the needs of the business – this will limit the sprawl
  • Create a policy for information sharing – this will help control the sharing of sensitive information
  • Train all employees on the procedures and tools that are being deployed – this will help to reduce accidental policy breaches
  • Incorporate the data sets from collaboration and messaging tools into the businesses’ data management strategy using eDiscovery and SaaS data backup solutions – this will empower users to make the most of the tools without putting the business at risk

For more information on sharing sensitive data see Small Business Answers guide on Internet Security protects from cyber threat

Methodology

Research conducted and statistics compiled for Veritas Technologies LLC by 3Gem. A total of 12,500 office workers who used communications channels as part of their job were interviewed between 23 November – 8 December 2020 in Australia, Brazil, China, France, Germany, Singapore, South Korea, UAE, United Kingdom and the United States.

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