Dark (Data) Clouds on the Horizon


Dark Cloud

 

There have been many definitions of “Dark Data” over the last couple of years including: unstructured, unclassified, untagged, unmanaged and unknown electronic data that is resident within an organization’s enterprise. Most of these definitions center on unstructured data residing in an enterprise. But with the advent of BYOD and employees use of personal clouds, this definition should be expanded to include any corporate owned data, no matter where it resides.

Dark data, especially dark data stored outside of the company’s infrastructure (and awareness that it even exists) is an obvious liability for eDiscovery response, regulatory compliance, and corporate IP security.

Is BYOC a good idea?

Much has been written on the dangers of “Bring Your Own Device” (BYOD) but little has been written on the dangers of “Bring Your Own Cloud” (BYOC) otherwise known as personal clouds. Employees now have access to free cloud storage from many vendors that give them access to their content no matter where they are. These same personal clouds also provide automatic syncing of desktop folders and the ability to share specific documents or even entire folders. These personal clouds offer a fantastic use model for individuals to upload their personal content for backup, sharing and remote availability. In the absence of any real guidance from employers, employees have also begun to use these personal clouds for both personal and work purposes.

The problem arises when corporate-owned data is moved up to personal clouds without the organization’s approval or awareness. Besides the obvious problem of potential theft of corporate IP, effective eDiscovery and regulatory compliance become impossible. Corporate data residing in personal clouds become “Dark Clouds” to the organization; corporate data residing in repositories outside the organizations infrastructure, management or knowledge.

Dark Clouds and eDiscovery

Organizations have been trying to figure out what to do with huge amounts of dark data within their infrastructure, particularly when anticipating or responding to litigation. Almost everything is potentially discoverable in litigation if it pertains to the case, and searching for and reviewing GBs or TBs of dark data residing in the enterprise can push the cost of eDiscovery up substantially. But imagine the GBs of corporate dark data residing in employee personal clouds that the organization has zero awareness of… Is the organization still responsible to search for it, secure it and produce it? Depending on who you ask, the answer is Yes, No, and “it depends”.

In reality, the correct answer is “it depends”. It will depend on what the organization did to try and stop employee dark clouds from existing. Was a policy prohibiting employee use of personal clouds with corporate data in place; were employees alerted to the policy; did the organization try to audit and enforce the policy; did the organization utilize technology to stop access to personal clouds from within the enterprise, and did the organization use technology to stop the movement of corporate data to personal clouds (content control)?

If the organization can show intent and actions to ensure dark clouds were not available to employees, then the expectation of dark cloud eDiscovery search may not exist. But if dark cloud due diligence was not done and/or documented, all bets are off.

Regulatory Compliance and Dark Clouds

Employee personal clouds can also end up becoming the repository of sensitive data subject to regulatory security and privacy requirements. Personally identifiable information (PII) and personal health information (PHI) under the control of an organization are subject to numerous security and privacy regulations and requirements that if not followed, can trigger costly penalties. But inadvertent exposure can occur as employees move daily work product up to their personal clouds to continue work at home or while traveling. A problem is many employees are not trained on recognizing and handling sensitive information; what is it, what constitutes sensitive information, how should it be secured, and the liabilities to the organization if sensitive information is leaked. The lack of understanding around the lack of security of personal clouds and the devices used to access them are a related problem. Take, for example, a situation where an employee accesses their personal cloud while in a coffee shop on an unsecured Wi-Fi connection. A hacker can simply gain access to your laptop via the unsecured Wi-Fi connection, access your personal cloud folder, and browse your personal cloud through your connection (a password would not be required because most users opt to auto-sign in to their cloud accounts as they connect on-line).

As with the previous eDiscovery discussion, if the organization had taken the required steps to ensure sensitive data could not be leaked (even inadvertently by the employee), they leave themselves open for regulatory fines and more.

Reducing the Risk of Dark Clouds

The only way to stop the risk associated with dark clouds is to stop corporate data from leaving the security of the enterprise in the first place. This outcome is almost impossible to guarantee without adopting draconian measures that most business cultures would rebel against but there are several measures that an organization can employ to at least reduce the risk:

  • First, create a use policy to address what is acceptable and not acceptable behavior when using organization equipment, infrastructure and data.
  • Document all policies and update them regularly.
  • Train employees on all policies – on a regular basis.
  • Regularly audit employee adherence to all policies, and document the audits.
  • Enforce all breaches of the policy.
  • Employee systematic security measures across the enterprise:
    • Don’t allow employee personal devices access to the infrastructure – BYOD
    • Stop employee access to personal clouds – in many cases this can be done systematically via cutting specific port access
    • Employ systematic enterprise access controls
    • Employ enterprise content controls – these are software applications that control access to individual content based on the actual content and the user’s security profile.

Employee dark clouds are a huge liability for organizations and will become more so as attorney’s become more educated on how employees create, use, store and share information. Now days, discoverable and sensitive data can migrate out of the control of an enterprise in the blink of an eye. The question is what the organization does to prevent it…

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Dark Data Archiving…Say What?


Dark door 2

In a recent blog titled “Bring your dark data out of the shadows”, I described what dark data was and why its important to manage it. To review, the reasons to manage were:

  1. It consumes costly storage space
  2. It consumes IT resources
  3. It masks security risks
  4. And it drives up eDiscovery costs

For the clean-up of dark data (remediation) it has been suggested by many, including myself, that the remediation process should include determining what you really have, determine what can be immediately disposed of (obvious stuff like duplicates and any expired content etc.), categorize the rest, and move the remaining categorized content into information governance systems.

But many “conservative” minded people (like many General Counsel) hesitate at the actual deletion of data, even after they have spent the resources and dollars to identify potentially disposable content. The reasoning usually centers on the fear of destroying information that could be potentially relevant in litigation. A prime example is seen in the Arthur Andersen case where a Partner famously sent an email message to employees working on the Enron account, reminding them to “comply with the firm’s documentation and retention policy”, or in other words – get rid of stuff. Many GCs don’t want to be put in the position of rightfully disposing of information per policy and having to explain later in court why potentially relevant information was disposed of…

For those that don’t want to take the final step of disposing of data, the question becomes “so what do we do with it?” This reminds me of a customer I was dealing with years ago. The GC for this 11,000 person company, a very distinguished looking man, was asked during a meeting that included the company’s senior staff, what the company’s information retention policy was. He quickly responded that he had decided that all information (electronic and hardcopy) from their North American operations would be kept for 34 years. Quickly calculating the company’s storage requirements over 34 years with 11,000 employees, I asked him if he had any idea what his storage requirements would be at the end of 34 years. He replied no and asked what the storage requirements would be. I replied it would be in the petabytes range and asked him if he understood what the cost of storing that amount of data would be and how difficult it would be to find anything in it.

He smiled and replied “I’m retiring in two years, I don’t care”

The moral of that actual example is that if you have decided to keep large amounts of electronic data for long periods of time, you have to consider the cost of storage as well as how you will search it for specific content when you actually have to.

In the example above, the GC was planning on storing it on spinning disk which is costly. Others I have spoken to have decided that most cost effective way to store large amounts of data for long periods of time is to keep backup tapes. Its true that backup tapes are relatively cheap (compared to spinning disk) but are difficult to get anything off of, they have a relatively high failure rate (again compared to spinning disk)  and have to be rewritten every so many years because backup tapes slowly lose their data over time.

A potential solution is moving your dark data to long term hosted archives. These hosted solutions can securely hold your electronically stored information (ESI) at extremely low costs per gigabyte. When needed, you can access your archive remotely and search and move/copy data back to your site.

An important factor to look for (for eDiscovery) is that data moved, stored, indexed and recovered from the hosted archive cannot alter the metadata in anyway. This is especially important when responding to a discovery request.

For those of you considering starting a dark data remediation project, consider long term hosted archives as a staging target for that data your GC just won’t allow to be disposed of.

Bring your dark data out of the shadows


NosferatuShadowDark data, otherwise known as unstructured, unmanaged, and uncategorized information is a major problem for many organizations. Many organizations don’t have the will or systems in place to automatically index and categorize their rapidly growing unstructured dark data, especially in file shares, and instead rely on employees to manually manage their own information. This reliance on employees is a no-win situation because employees have neither the incentive nor the time to actively manage their information.

Organizations find themselves trying to figure out what to do with huge amounts of dark data, particularly when they’re purchasing TBs of new storage annually because they’ve run out.

Issues with dark data:

  • Consumes costly storage space and resources – Most medium to large organizations provide terabytes of file share storage space for employees and departments to utilize. Employees drag and drop all kinds of work related files (and personal files like personal photos, MP3 music files, and personal communications) as well as PSTs and work station backup files. The vast majority of these files are unmanaged and are never looked at again by the employee or anyone else.
  • Consumes IT resources – Personnel are required to perform nightly backups, DR planning, and IT personnel to find or restore files employees could not find.
  • Masks security risks – File shares act as “catch-alls” for employees. Sensitive company information regularly finds its way to these repositories. These file shares are almost never secure so sensitive information like personally identifiable information (PII), protected health information (PHI, and intellectual property can be inadvertently leaked.
  • Raises eDiscovery costs – Almost everything is discoverable in litigation if it pertains to the case. The fact that tens or hundreds of terabytes of unindexed content is being stored on file shares means that those terabytes of files may have to be reviewed to determine if they are relevant in a given legal case. That can add hundreds of thousands or millions of dollars of additional cost to a single eDiscovery request.

To bring this dark data under control, IT must take positive steps to address the problem and do something about it. The first step is to look to your file shares.