Will unstructured data lead to security breaches and regulation compliance issues?

UK CIOs have revealed the potential threat of ‘dark’ (unused) and unstructured data that lurks within medium and large organisations.

Nine out of 10 respondents in research from Crown Records Management said that unstructured ‘data oceans’ — a wealth of data which is difficult to view, access and secure — are a problem and pose security risks and non-compliance challenges with data regulations.

As much as 59% of data across UK organisations is unstructured, while 40% of data is ‘dark’ or unused.

Given that the IDC found that 90% of unstructured data is never analysed, organisations are in unchartered waters when it comes to managing risk, fulfilling personal information requests under GDPR or gaining intelligence from their information.

According to the research, 51% of respondents said  that unstructured data was a security risk and 49% said it put them in danger of non-compliance.

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It’s not all about the risks

It’s not all about the data risks.

If managed effectively, unstructured data can hold the key to further business success; 64% said they could improve operational efficiency and productivity by tapping into unstructured data, 34% said they could grow sales, 32% felt customer loyalty could be improved and 31% saw it as a source of improving employee engagement.

The data storage conundrum

Crown Records Management found that data was commonly stored in over 20 types of locations. The most common were databases, the cloud and back-up systems.

However, it’s alarmingly frequent for both used and unused data to be held in hard to reach places with limited security protection.

For all used data, 29% said it was held on laptop hard-drives, 22% said email accounts and 21% said filing cabinets. For all dark data, 19% said people’s desks and drawers, 17% said written notes and 12% said employees’ homes were all storage locations.

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A management challenge

Unstructured data is becoming more difficult to manage due to its complexity.

Crown’s research showed that unstructured data is split evenly into paper files, data in original electronic documents and data in scanned copies of documents. Respondents also revealed the types of unstructured data they are most worried about:

• 90% were concerned about data in written documents;
• 88% were concerned about emails;
• 85% were concerned about social media;
• 85% were concerned about handwritten documents and forms.

Given that these sources aren’t adequately protected or easily accessed when data is required, organisations are afraid of security breaches and not being able to provide data within necessary timeframes — 43% were concerned about unstructured data storage.

Next year, data production is estimated to be 44 times greater than it was 10 years ago. As a result, organisations will have to pay for more storage space as data growth continues, not to mention the risks of unstructured data increasing as there is a greater volume to manage.

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Kevin Widdop, information security consultant at Crown Records Management commented: “Many organisations seem to be at risk of drowning in vast amounts of data that they are not aware of, and many are suffering from a wealth of data in which they don’t know what information it contains.

“It’s valid to hold unused data for compliance purposes such as the financial services industry keeping financial data for up to 25 years or forever in some cases, as per Financial Conduct Authority regulations. However, it becomes an issue when much of this data is held in unstructured formats and when sensitive data isn’t adequately protected, potentially landing the business with a fine or negative public image if the data is breached. In some ways it’s even worse that organisations are unaware of what data lies in these unstructured sources, limiting their opportunity.

“As data indexing and management tools develop, organisations have increasing options to help them keep both their unstructured and dark data secure but accessible. They can then ensure that risks around security and compliance are kept at a minimum. Dark data will become visible and easily accessible, giving organisations far better knowledge of the information that they hold and what it can do for them.”

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Nick Ismail

Nick Ismail is a former editor for Information Age (from 2018 to 2022) before moving on to become Global Head of Brand Journalism at HCLTech. He has a particular interest in smart technologies, AI and...

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