More than three-quarters of IT executives worry that data sprawl puts their data at risk, especially with employees working from insecure home networks, survey finds.

IT executives increasingly worry about the extent to employees have saved their company’s data in unprotected devices or sent sensitive information through insecure services, according to a survey released by data-governance firm Egnyte last week.

The survey, conducted in August, found that more than three-quarters of CIOs had concerns about content sprawl, with 38% very concerned about the issue. While the degree of data sprawl often depends on the department, the rapid move to remote work because of the coronavirus pandemic has become the No. 1 reason cited by CIOs for data replicating to insecure environments.

Employees may copy data to their home systems, even if those systems are not maintained or visible to the company, says Kris Lahiri, chief technology officer of Egnyte.

“In a lot of cases, the worker has problems getting stuff done, so they take an easier solution, whether it was insecurely sending something over email or a personal device,” he says. “People needs to realize that basic digital hygiene is important to visit.”

Then survey underscores that the skyrocketing growth in data stored and used by companies has made it harder to keep important and sensitive information secure, while at the same time, allowing access to the information to authorized users.  

Nearly half of the survey respondents, for example, believe that employees had access to information they should not be able to access, while 40% of CIOs encountered employees who could not access data that they should be able to access.

“We do find lots of duplicate repositories,” Lahiri says. “Take for example, a CRM [customer relationship management] solution and — even if someone has picked Salesforce as their main solution — the data finds its way into all sorts of places.”

The coronavirus pandemic has forced companies to embrace remote workers, with more than three-quarters of companies having most of their employees work outside of the office, according to a June survey by consultancy PwC. Even after pandemic conditions have subsided, almost 90% of companies expect many — 30% or more — of employees to work out of the office at least some of the time.

While employees overwhelmingly support remote work, collaborating with other team members is the No. 1 reason some miss the office, and difficulty in collaborating the No. 2 reason employees felt unproductive at home, the PwC survey found.

“Provide everyone with the collaboration tools and access to data they need to work remotely effectively,” the company recommended. “This may include small stipends to pay for home office equipment or high-speed Internet. Be sure to assess and close the security and control gaps in your remote work setup.”

Many IT executives worry that their employees are not following the policies for keeping data secure. About a third of respondents to the Egnyte survey, for example, would give their worker a grade of C or lower for their ability to keep data secure.

Among the top issues for companies are employees use of personal devices for work. While more than third of employees are using personal devices to access company files, two-thirds of companies do not have policies for password requirements on personal devices, restrictions on using personal devices for work, or mandates that persona devices are not left unattended.

Companies should determine their most valuable data, determine the risks to those assets, and give authorized users a frictionless way to access the information to do their work, says Lahiri. 

“Companies should focus on reducing their content sprawl,” he says. “Pick the top, most valuable few categories of data and repositories, and make those easy to collaborate on and share. By doing so, you are making it less likely that users circumvent your policies.”

Veteran technology journalist of more than 20 years. Former research engineer. Written for more than two dozen publications, including CNET News.com, Dark Reading, MIT’s Technology Review, Popular Science, and Wired News. Five awards for journalism, including Best Deadline … View Full Bio

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