Are your file sharing tools leaking data?

Data leakage from negligent file sharing and information collaboration practices is as significant a risk as outright data theft, according to a Ponemon Institute Survey.

Routine, unsanctioned file sharing among employees has put organizations at risk equal to or greater than the dangers posed by direct data theft, according to research by the Ponemon Institute and IntraLinks Holdings Inc., a  software-as-a-service content management firm.

The report, Breaking Bad: The Risk of Unsecure File Sharing, says many organizations have few controls in place to protect data, yet they are enabling data to be shared outside their organizations without the knowledge of senior management.

The study points a finger at cloud storage and sharing services such as Dropbox, which have become increasingly popular as they enable employees and organizations to easily collaborate.

Additionally, the report concludes that organization leaders are failing to respond to the escalating risk of ungoverned employee file sharing, which routinely breaches IT policies and puts data in jeopardy.

“While most [organizations] take steps to protect themselves from hacking and other malicious activities, said Larry Ponemon, chairman of the research firm, “this report shows that these same organizations are entirely unprepared to guard against risky and ungoverned file sharing using consumer-grade applications like Dropbox.”

Findings from the Ponemon-Intralinks report include:

IT has lost control of decision making and data.

Less than half (46 percent) say the CISO and CIO have authority and responsibility for securing document collaboration and file-sharing activities.

More than 26 percent of applications are being used by business functions without the IT department’s approval or knowledge.

The primary technology used in the file-sharing environment is whitelisting and/or blacklisting tools.

Employees behave badly when it comes to data sharing.

Employees are often negligent when it comes to data sharing and collaboration. More than 60 percent of the respondents said say they have often or frequently:

  • Used their personal file-sharing/file sync-and-share apps in the workplace.
  • Sent unencrypted emails.
  • Failed to delete confidential documents or files as required by policies.
  • Accidentally forwarded files or documents to individuals not authorized to see them.

Ponemon, who called the findings of the survey “shocking,” also concluded that the benefits created by file sync-and-share applications – including rapid, real time collaboration – can be a competitive advantage for organizations.

“The benefits need to be supported by security policies and enabling technologies,” according to the report, which offered ways organizations could address trade-offs involved in using of collaborative tools in a secure workspace.

The report recommended the following steps:

  • Recognize that employees are already using unmanaged file-sharing solutions that are putting data at risk.
  • IT needs to provide alternative collaboration services that keep employees productive but meet security requirements. Tools often used by IT to control adoption of unsecure file sharing, including blacklisting, aren’t always effective and can be circumvented by employees.
  • Adopt a clear policy for the adoption and use of cloud-based file sharing/file sync-and-share applications.
  • Centralize authority for securing document collaboration and file-sharing with experts, including IT security managers.
  • Deploy identity and access management tools to manage and control user access to sensitive documents and how they are shared.

Organizations “need to take steps to understand how data is being shared and distributed,” the study concluded.

“This will require a combination of education, process control, governance and technology. [But] failure to take action is resulting in data loss, with consequential loss of reputation, competitive advantage and potential regulatory fines.”

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