What is Dark Data and How Should You Manage It?

Attack Surface Management
5 min read
James Mignacca
March 8, 2023
James Mignacca
March 8, 2023
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Dark data isn’t new. What is new is the dominating volume of dark data across organizational data stores. IDC estimates that by 2025, the world’s 175 zettabytes of data will contain mostly unstructured data types, at a whopping 80 per cent.

Businesses and the assets they use have long collected, processed, and retained more data than they need. Our dramatic shift to digital assets, cloud services, and work applications means that company data stores are growing at exponential rate. Unaccounted for and orphaned data creates attack surface blind spots, increasing the risk of data compromise and attacks.

What is dark data

Dark data is a term used to describe the vast amounts of unstructured information that businesses collect, store, process - and possibly never use. Dark data can be found across business networks in emails, documents, databases, and even social media accounts. It can include everything from geolocation data to log files from company devices, applications, and servers.

The problem with dark data is that it often contains sensitive or confidential information which could be exploited by malicious actors if not managed correctly. It’s often siloed across company systems, making it harder to see and track. Identifying and managing dark data appropriately is critical to help organizations minimize their overall attack surface and better protect themselves against security threats.

So how do you go about identifying and tracking your dark data? The first step is understanding where it hides within your network – this could include email servers, cloud storage systems, file sharing services like Dropbox or Google Drive, customer relationship management (CRM) software solutions like Salesforce, or Office365. Once you have identified your organization’s dark data sources you need to start monitoring them regularly for changes in activity levels or suspicious behaviour which could indicate compromise.

It’s also important to ensure that all employees are aware of the risks associated with handling dark data and what measures should be taken when dealing with it – such as encrypting files before sending them over the internet or using secure passwords when accessing online accounts.

Additionally, having an effective backup system in place will help minimize any losses incurred due to accidental deletion or corruption of files containing sensitive information stored on-site or in off-site locations like cloud storage providers.

Here are 5 steps your team can take to discover, classify and protect your organization’s dark data:

1. Ensure your data inventory is up to date

Use an automated data discovery tool to scan your organization’s entire environment. An initial scan will help you uncover dark data and identify where it lives, while continuous scanning will ensure your data inventory is always current.

2. Update data classification categories.

Ensure your inventory captures all structured and unstructured data types. Consider things like data sensitivity, file format, data author, data governance regulations and the date of creation when mapping classification categories.

3. Establish data handling policies.

Ensure rules, policies and procedures are in place to govern how employees handle data based on classification types.

4. Only store the data your organization needs.

Implement data erasure rules to ensure that only essential data is saved and stored across the organization’s assets, and only for the time it’s needed.

5. Set authorization parameters.

Access to sensitive data types should be limited based on job dependencies. Authorization can be based on individual users, devices, groups or departments. Setting and enforcing data access controls ensures that access to sensitive data is only granted to employees who need access to it to do their job.

What is dark data - Final thoughts

Failing to manage your company’s dark data properly can lead to serious consequences, including financial losses due to theft or fraudulent activities; reputational damage caused by leaked confidential information; and legal action resulting from non-compliance with privacy regulations. More importantly, dark data mismanagement and neglect can put your customers’ personal data at risk. Taking proactive steps now will help reduce the chances of these issues occurring later down the line.

Managing your company's dark data effectively is essential for protecting against potential security threats while ensuring compliance with relevant laws and regulations. Make sure you understand where it hides within your network and take appropriate measures for tracking and securing it.

Reach out today to schedule a free demo of Cavelo’s Cyber Asset Attack Surface Management platform and see how it can help your team uncover, classify, track and protect your organization’s dark data.

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