January 25, 2016 By Larry Loeb 2 min read

Blue Coat’s “2H 2015 Shadow Data Report” highlighted a problem that many enterprises have not yet considered or addressed: shadow IT and how it exposes enterprise data. The study found that there are a number of security risks tied to the unauthorized or unregulated use of tools such as Google Drive, Box and others by corporate employees.

Sharing Documents Means Exposing Data

The study found that 26 percent of enterprise documents that were stored in a cloud service were at high risk of exposure due to being “broadly shared.” This term refers to documents that are spread among employees within the organization, documents that have been shared externally with specific individuals such as contractors and partners and documents that are openly accessible.

Documents being overshared in the cloud can happen due to the phenomenon of shadow IT, which occurs when employees bypass the security protocols of an enterprise for convenience. The result of this shadow IT is “shadow data,” or information that may be shared publicly without appropriate security safeguards.

Of the 26 percent of documents that were broadly shared, Blue Coat found that 10 percent contained compliance-related enterprise data such as personally identifiable information (PII), payment card information (PCI), protected health information (PHI) or source code for software applications.

Further, the research revealed more than 23 percent of documents were shared publicly, possibly inadvertently, allowing anyone with a link to view information. Publicly exposed files can be accessed by Web crawlers or other automated tools trawling the Internet in search of sensitive content.

The Cost of Unauthorized Access

As evidenced by the “2015 Cost of Data Breach Study” conducted by the Ponemon Institute, the average cost of a breach can be much higher for educational and health care institutions. This is because of the large number of documents stored by educational organizations and the preponderance of PHI data in the health care industry. Health care breaches carry a high price tag of $363 per lost record versus $154 for other document types as a result.

According to the Blue Coat report, just 2 percent of cloud users were responsible for all the data exfiltration, data destruction and account takeover attempts detected. Exfiltration was found to be the most serious shadow data threat, making up 77 percent of the risk. Data destruction and account takeover were second and third at 17 percent and 6 percent, respectively.

Fixing the Enterprise Data Problem

The report suggested enterprises should begin the process of mediation by identifying the risky apps and blocking access so that employees use only known secure services. Enterprises should also educate employees on the security risks of sharing documents, whether it is within the organization or with external stakeholders. Only with this effort can the risks of shadow IT and shadow data be mitigated.

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