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4/20/2017
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Users Overshare Sensitive Enterprise Data

Survey finds nearly half of the employees trained to protect sensitive data engage in risky security practices.

When it comes to keeping confidential data locked down, it turns out that even employees trained in cybersecurity best practices still don't always know how to protect sensitive information, according to the Dell End-User Security Survey 2017 released today.

While employees don't want their companies to fall victim to a security breach, they also prefer to avoid security policies that limit their workplace productivity and daily activities, the survey found.

Two out of three employees in the survey say they were required to undergo cybersecurity training to guard sensitive data. But of this group, 18% still engaged in unsafe data security practices because they didn't realize their actions were risky, while 24% didn't care because they felt it stood in the way of completing a task.

"To me, this indicates that company policies on confidential data usage are not resonating with employees. It's not enough for organizations to simply tell employees to stop sharing confidential information – they need to enact policies and procedures that unlock the ability for employees to share confidential data when it makes sense in a secure and simple fashion," says Brett Hansen, vice president of endpoint data security and managent at Dell.

Hansen, who admits he was particularly startled by these survey results, says it is increasingly important for organizations to simultaneously strive for higher levels of awareness, enablement, and protection to ensure both data security and productivity.

The survey queried 2,608 business professionals across the globe who work with confidential data at companies with 250 employees or more.

Other findings in the survey include:

  • 76% of employees feel their company gives more priority to security than worker productivity.
  • 72% are willing to share confidential, sensitive, or regulated information with others under certain circumstances.
  • 35% of survey participants say it's common to find workers will leave with corporate information when they leave an organization.

Hansen says the percentage of employees who leave with corporate information is likely to be higher than 35%. "The common guideline for surveys – even confidential ones like this one – where you ask people about their behavior is that they will present themselves in the best possible light," he says.

The survey also found regional differences when it comes to taking corporate information upon leaving the company. Survey participants in India had the highest percentage results at 57%, while Japan had the lowest, at 15%.

Security v. User Productivity

Tensions between desires to keep corporate information secure versus the ability to move quickly and remain productive were clearly illuminated in the survey results, with 76% of survey respondents noting their organizations give greater priority to security.

However, Hansen points to examples where some companies have found ways to strike a balance between the two. "Organizations that are most successful in achieving the balance of data security and productivity know that they need to focus on securing data without creating a lot of extra steps for employees. This means file-based data encryption that automatically encrypts data, instead of leaving it to an employee to classify the information themselves," he says.

Because the workforce is becoming more mobile every day, he says, it is also critical for organizations to safeguard data not only as it resides on PCs and mobile devices, but also as it is shared in the cloud, sent to personal email accounts, or transferred to external devices.

Sharing Confidential Data

Performance reviews that measure worker productivity may play a role in why 72% of survey respondents noted they were willing to share confidential, sensitive, or regulated company information with others in certain circumstances, according to Hansen. 

"Productivity always will be paramount to a company’s success. However, the survey results seem to indicate to me that there is a perception that following security best practices significantly slows down productivity and that is why employees are willing to work around data security policies," he says. "That doesn’t need to be the case. There are data security solutions – particularly data encryption – that would go a long way in ensuring that even if there is a breach, the data can't be read or used."

It's also a matter of users being more careful and "thoughtful" about how they are sharing or using sensitive data, he notes.

According to the survey, employees are willing to share sensitive data when told by management to share the information (43%); when sharing data with someone who is authorized to take possession of it (37%); when they feel the benefit of sharing information is higher than the security risk (23%); when they believe sharing the information will aid their effectiveness on the job (22%); and when they believe it will help the recipient do his or her job better (13%).

Related Content:

Dawn Kawamoto is an Associate Editor for Dark Reading, where she covers cybersecurity news and trends. She is an award-winning journalist who has written and edited technology, management, leadership, career, finance, and innovation stories for such publications as CNET's ... View Full Bio

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