Secure file sharing & content collaboration for users, IT & security

Larry Ponemon

The ability to securely and easily share files and content in the workplace is essential to employees’ productivity, compliance with the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and digital transformation. However, a lack of visibility into how users are accessing sensitive data and the file applications they are using is putting organizations at risk for a data breach. In fact, 63 percent of participants in this research believe it is likely that their companies had a data breach in the past two years because of insecure file sharing and content collaboration.

According to the findings, an average of 44 percent of employees in organizations use file sharing and collaboration solutions to store, edit or share content in the normal course of business. As a result of this extensive use, most respondents (72 percent) say that it is very important to ensure that the sensitive information in these solutions is secure.

Despite their awareness of the risks, only 39 percent of respondents rate their ability to keep sensitive contents secure in the file sharing and collaboration environment as very high. Only 34 percent of respondents rate the tools used to support the safe use of sensitive information assets in the file sharing and collaboration environment as very effective.

Sponsored by Axway Syncplicity, the purpose of this research is to understand file sharing and content collaboration practices in organizations and what practices should be taken to secure the data without impeding the flow of information. Ponemon Institute surveyed 1,371 IT and IT security practitioners in North America, United Kingdom, Germany and France. All respondents are familiar with content collaboration solutions and tools. Further, their job function involves the management, production and protection of content stored in files.

This section presents an analysis of the key findings. More details can be found on Axway’s website. Following are key themes in this research.

Data breaches in the file sharing and content collaboration environment are likely. Sixty-three percent of respondents say it was likely that their organizations experienced the loss or theft of sensitive information in the file sharing and collaboration environment in the past two years.

The best ways to avoid a data breach is to have skilled personnel with data security responsibilities (73 percent of respondents), more effective data loss protection technologies in place (65 percent of respondents), more budget (56 percent of respondents) and fewer silos and/or turf issues among IT, IT security and lines of business (49 percent of respondents).

Data breaches are likely because of risky user behavior. About 70 percent of respondents say they have received files and content not intended for them. Other risky events include: accidentally sharing files or contents with individuals not authorized to receive them, not deleting confidential contents or files as required by policies and accidentally sharing files or content with unauthorized individuals outside the organization, according to 67 percent, 62 percent and 59 percent of respondents, respectively.

A lack of visibility into users’ access puts sensitive information at risk. Only 31 percent of respondents are confident in having visibility into users’ access and file sharing applications. Some 65 percent of respondents say not knowing where sensitive data is constitutes a significant security risk. Only 27 percent of respondents say their organization has clear visibility into what file sharing applications are being used by employees at work. A consequence of not having visibility is the inability for IT leadership to know if lines of business are using file sharing applications without informing them (i.e. shadow IT).

Customer PII and confidential contents and files are the types of sensitive information at risk. The most sensitive types of data shared with colleagues and third parties is customer PII and confidential documents and files. Hence, these need to be most protected in the file sharing and collaboration environment.

The plethora of unstructured data makes managing the threats to sensitive information difficult. As defined in the research, unstructured data is information that either does not have a pre-defined data model or is not organized in a pre-defined manner. Unstructured information is typically text-heavy, but may contain data such as dates, numbers, and facts as well. An average of 53 percent of organizations’ sensitive data is unstructured and organizations have an average of almost 3 petabytes of unstructured data.

Most unstructured data is stored in email file sharing solutions. Respondents estimate an average of 20.5 percent is stored in shared network drives and 20 percent is stored in other file sync and share solutions. Almost half (49 percent of respondents) are concerned about storing unstructured data in the cloud. Only about 20 percent of unstructured data is stored in cloud-based services such as Dropbox or Box (20 percent) and Office 365 (17 percent).

On average, almost half of an organization’s sensitive data is stored on-premises.  According to Figure 7, an average of almost half (49 percent) of organizations’ sensitive information is stored on-premises and approximately 30 percent is located in the public cloud. An average of 22 percent of sensitive information is stored in the hybrid cloud. Hybrid cloud is a cloud computing environment that uses a mix of on-premises, private cloud and third-party, public cloud services with orchestration between the two platforms.

Companies are challenged to keep sensitive content secure in the file sharing and collaboration environment. As mentioned earlier in the report, respondents are aware of the threats to their sensitive information, but admit their governance practices and technologies should be more effective. According to respondents, on average, about one-third of the data in the file sharing and collaboration environment is considered sensitive.

To classify the level of security that is needed, respondents say it is mostly determined by data usage, location of users and sensitivity of data type (62 percent, 61 percent and 60 percent, respectively). Twenty-four percent of respondents say their companies do not determine content and file-level confidentiality.

To read the rest of this report: Click here to visit Axway’s site. 

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