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Avoiding the wrath of illegal data

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In today’s interconnected world, businesses not only grapple with the management of vast amounts of data, but also face the looming threat of illegal data concealed within their digital repositories. This proliferation of illegal data presents a range of risks and challenges that organizations must confront. Illegal data encompasses a broad spectrum of content or files that contravene laws, regulations, and/or company policy. It includes material such as pirated software, confidential information obtained through unlawful means, and content that promotes or facilitates illegal activities, as well as content that is simply not acceptable or useful on the corporate network.

How illegal data finds its way into corporate networks

The explosive growth of unstructured data on a global scale has provided fertile ground for the simultaneous increase in illegal data. With the emergence of digital technologies, businesses accumulate vast volumes of information originating from diverse sources such as emails, documents, images, videos, and social media interactions. As unstructured data continues to proliferate, the potential for illegal content to infiltrate organizational systems grows exponentially, presenting a pressing concern that demands immediate attention.

It is, of course, important to acknowledge that not all instances of illegal data found within business systems are a result of intentional wrongdoing. With the increasing intermingling of personal and professional devices, there is a higher likelihood of inadvertent entry of illegal data onto organizational systems. For instance, an employee may unknowingly download a copyrighted movie on their personal device and inadvertently transfer it to their work device or cloud storage, thereby introducing illegal data into the business environment.

I blogged about the looming threat of orphaned and dark data in March 2023, noting the risk it poses of potentially containing illegal data (https://datadobi.com/blog/former-employees-orphaned-data-could-destroy-your-business). As a reminder, orphaned data refers to data that has no clear owner within an organization, while dark data is data that is not used by the organization. Orphaned data can accumulate when data is created or stored and the individual responsible for it leaves the organization without transferring ownership or knowledge of the data to another person or department. Dark data accumulates naturally due to the aging process, wherein the older the data gets, the less it is accessed, and the lower the level of knowledge of its contents.

The ramifications of illegal data on corporate networks

Having illegal data on a corporate network can result in severe consequences for organizations across various aspects of their operations, including legal, reputational, compliance, security, and operational impacts. Possessing or distributing illegal data exposes businesses to potential legal hardships. Authorities, regulatory bodies, or copyright holders can initiate legal actions, leading to financial penalties, fines, or criminal charges.

Reputational damage is another significant concern. The presence of illegal data tarnishes the organization’s image and erodes trust among stakeholders, including clients, partners, and the general public. Negative publicity, loss of credibility, and public backlash can result in a diminished customer base, hindered business opportunities, and long-term harm to the organization’s growth prospects.

The presence of illegal data signifies a failure to meet compliance standards, attracting regulatory scrutiny, potential penalties, and further legal risks. The presence of illegal data on a corporate network increases the vulnerability to security breaches and compromises. Such data may contain malicious files, malware, or ransomware that can infiltrate the network and compromise the confidentiality, integrity, and availability of sensitive business information. Security breaches can lead to data theft, financial losses, operational disruptions, and the erosion of customer trust.

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