How Your Remote Team May Be Sharing Sensitive Business Data

Person using laptop. Employees are sharing sensitive information through unapproved channels.

Written by: Jay H.

Business collaboration tools like Microsoft 365 have been the backbone of many organizations throughout the pandemic. However, according to a new survey from data management firm Veritas Technologies, employee misuse of these channels can put company data at risk. The report highlights the dangers of misusing instant messaging (IM) and collaboration tools and offers organizations ways to reduce risk.

Employees Putting Companies At Risk

A survey of 12,500 office workers across ten countries revealed that most employees are putting their companies at risk. Seventy-one percent of global workers admitted to sharing sensitive and business-critical information using IM and collaboration tools. For example, 58 percent of employees save copies of business data transmitted over IM in the US. Meanwhile, 51 percent delete that information entirely. Both approaches could leave companies open to hefty fines if regulators perform an audit.

The types of sensitive data employees are sharing include client information (13%), details on HR issues (10%), contracts (10%), business plans (10%), and COVID-19 test results (12%). Worryingly, only less than one-third of employees claimed they hadn’t shared any compromising information.

Another concern is that many employees use collaboration tools to close deals, process orders, and agree to pay raises when there may not be a formal record of the discussion.

Increased Reliance On Applications

The challenges presented by sharing sensitive information are compounded by the amount of time employees spend using IM and collaboration apps. Since the start of the pandemic, there has been an increase in apps such as Zoom and Teams by 13 percent. This means that the employee spends an average of two and a half hours on these applications. Moreover, 27 percent of the workforce spends more than half of the working week on these tools.

Employees are conducting a significant amount of business on these tools and treating agreements as binding. For instance, as a result of receiving information over IM and collaboration applications, almost 24 percent have accepted and processed an order, 25 percent have accepted a reference for a job candidate, and 20 percent have taken a signed contract.

The survey also found that bosses had reprimanded 39 percent of employees for sharing sensitive information. Despite this, 75 percent of workers said they would continue to share this type of information.

“It is now clear that constraining employees to ‘approved’ methods of communication and collaboration tools isn’t effective,” said Ajay Bhatia, GM, Digital Compliance at Veritas. “Instead, our message is simple: don’t fight it – fix it.”

A businessman texting near window.

IM & Text Treated As Binding

When asked which communication methods provide the most reliable proof of an agreement, e-mail was the top choice at 96 percent. The second was an electronic signature, at 95 percent. However, a surprising amount of people found other methods to be reliable proof. Ninety-three percent of workers trusted IM, 89 percent said text, and 69 percent trusted social media.

Recommendations For Businesses

For organizations looking to regain control of data being shared over collaboration and messaging tools, Veritas provided the following recommendations:

  • Standardize on a set of collaboration and messaging tools meeting the business’s needs – this will limit the sprawl.
  • Create a policy for information sharing – this will help control sharing of sensitive information.
  • Train all employees on the policies and tools deployed – this will help to reduce accidental policy breaches.
  • Incorporate data sets from collaboration and messaging tools into the businesses’ data management strategy using SaaS data backup solutions.

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