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Vulnerabilities / Threats

3/4/2008
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Survey: Enterprises Don't Know Sensitive Data Flow

Upcoming report from The 451 Group demonstrates how little progress enterprises have made in identifying and protecting sensitive data

Most enterprises still don’t know where their sensitive data resides, and less than half of those that do know are actually enforcing its protection, according to new research to be released next month by The 451 Group.

“Seventy-five percent don’t know who their employees are talking to,” says Nick Selby, director of research operations and research director of enterprise security for The 451 Group. “But this is not an IT problem -- it’s a business problem.”

The 451 Group survey, which will be published as part of its “Mind the Data Gap” report next month, found that only 37 percent of enterprises have determined where their data physically resides in the organization. Only 26 percent have established data-sensitivity classification schemes -- such as “public,” “confidential,” and “regulated" -- to label their data, and over half of those respondents say enforcement of these data classifications is nonexistent in their organizations.

Selby says of the around 320 IT decision-makers his firm surveyed, only 22 percent of them had done any analysis on interdepartmental communication. “We are finding that they don’t know where the data is because they don’t understand how they do business... They don’t understand the processes,” he says.

Those organizations that are on track with classifying their data either do business with the government or are regulated to label their data’s sensitivity, Selby says.

And it appears enterprises are out of touch when it comes to just how data leaks in the real world, according to The 451 Group. While data leakage by email accounted for only about 0.5 percent of the incidents (there were two so far) reported to Attrition.org's database this year, some 38 percent of respondents to 451's survey said employees leaking information via email or USB device, for instance, was either somewhat or very likely. And 44 percent said employees stealing information this way was somewhat or very likely, according to the survey.

But The 451 Group says this disconnect may be more about organizations in general just not knowing their users are leaking data via email. "It is inconceivable to us that so few losses occurred by a channel like email," according to its latest blog entry.

Meanwhile, Selby says before organizations throw tools at the data leakage problem, they first need to have their senior business and IT people team up to analyze data volumes, traffic, and study which groups need to talk to which groups, etc.

— Kelly Jackson Higgins, Senior Editor, Dark Reading

  • The 451 Group

    Kelly Jackson Higgins is Executive Editor at DarkReading.com. She is an award-winning veteran technology and business journalist with more than two decades of experience in reporting and editing for various publications, including Network Computing, Secure Enterprise ... View Full Bio

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