Survey finds most companies can't protect confidential documents

A majority of companies don't have the technology in place to keep employees from sharing confidential documents, according to a new survey titled, Risky Business: How Company Insiders Put High Value Information at Risk.

In particular, only 36 percent of over 600 IT practitioners at large companies said that their companies were able to restrict the sharing of confidential documents with third parties, and only 27 percent were able to restrict sharing between employees.

The Ponemon Institute surveyed 637 US IT security practitioners familiar with their organisation's approach to protecting data, documents and files against cyberattacks. All organisations surveyed use some type of document and file-level security tools. High value information includes trade secrets, new product designs, merger and acquisition activity, financial data, confidential business information, etc.

"What should be concerning to C-level executives and corporate boards is that most organizations have no idea where mission-critical information is located on the corporate network, who has access and what they are doing with that information," said Bill Blake, President of survey sponsor Fasoo, a provider of file-based security solutions.

"Deploying DRM solutions is a first step. Beyond that, organisations must be vigilant in applying and enforcing security policies as well as knowing where the organization's most valuable information is located at all times."

Other findings from the survey include:

  • Company insiders are the biggest threat – The primary cause of data breaches experienced by companies was the careless employee (56 percent) followed by the lost or stolen device (37 percent).
  • Where are the leaks – Seventy-three percent responded that it was likely their organization had lost some confidential information over the past 12 months. Half of all respondents say their organization is highly effective in preventing leakage by external attackers and hackers yet less than half are as confident in preventing data leakage by careless employees. 
  • Highest risk departments – Sales departments pose the greatest risk to information assets, both structured (69 percent) and unstructured data (58 percent). C-level executives and Human Resources (79 percent) account for more than half of unstructured data risk while Human Resources and Finance and Accounting (71 percent) pose more risk with structured data.
  • Setting policies and enforcing them – Eighty-three percent of organizations struggle with determining the appropriate level of confidentiality documents and files should possess.  Determination is based on data type, policies or data usage, but only 13 percent use access as the determining factor while only 16 percent are using a content management system. Even if the organization has properly identified confidentiality, only 15 percent of respondents are confident that they are highly effective in limiting access.

"There is a belief that data breaches are the work of malicious actors, internal and external, but it is more often the result of careless behaviour by employees who don't understand the impact of sharing files. The findings in this study should serve as a wake-up call for all organisations determined to protect high value information," said Larry Ponemon, President, Ponemon Institute.

"Better security hygiene, including education and consequences for risky behaviour, should include every employee with access to information in addition to the organization locking down proprietary data, intellectual property and confidential information that shouldn't be accessed by everyone."