Industry news

83 Percent of US Organisations Have Accidentally Exposed Sensitive Data

Boston, MA – February 21, 2019 – According to a national survey commissioned by Egress, 83 percent of security professionals believe that employees have accidentally exposed customer or business sensitive data at their organisation. The survey found that accidental data breaches are often compounded by an organisational failure to encrypt data prior to it being shared – both internally and externally – putting their organisations at risk of non-compliance with major data privacy regulations, such as NYDFS Cybersecurity Regulation 23 NYCRR 500, GDPR, HIPAA and the emerging California Privacy Act (AB375).

Accidental Breach: Employees Expose Sensitive Data via Email and File Sharing

An overwhelming number of security professionals believe that employees have put customer PII and business sensitive information at risk (83 percent). This is largely driven by the explosive growth in unstructured data (emails, documents, files, etc.), combined with the growing number of ways employees can communicate internally and externally.

Respondents named the five most common technologies that have led to accidental data breaches by employees:

  • External email services (Gmail, Yahoo!, etc.) (51 percent)
  • Corporate email (46 percent)
  • File sharing services (FTP sites, etc.) (40 percent
  • Collaboration Tools (Slack, Dropbox, etc.) (38 percent)
  • SMS / Messaging Apps (G-Chat, WhatsApp, etc.) (35 percent)

According to Egress, some of the most common email accidents that lead to data breaches include:

  • Accidental sharing / wrong email address (The Outlook Auto-Insert problem)
  • Email forwarding of sensitive data
  • Sharing attachments with hidden content
  • Forwarding data to personal email accounts

Warning: Encrypt Before Sharing

The survey found that a large majority of organisations fail to encrypt data before its shared – both internally and externally. This compounds the accidental breach problem, ensuring that any mistake by an employee will result in data definitely being exposed. As a result, organisations are at risk of non-compliance with major data privacy regulations, such as GDPR, the NYDFS Cybersecurity Regulation (23 NYCRR 500), and the recently-passed California Consumer Privacy Act. According to the survey:

  • 79 percent of organisations share PII / sensitive business data internally without encryption
  • 64 percent of organisations share PII / sensitive business data externally without encryption

Despite the failure to encrypt, data privacy regulations are driving changes in organisational approaches to security. When asked how new data regulations changed how information was shared, respondents stated they:

  • Implemented new security policies (59 percent)
  • Invested in new security technologies (54 percent)
  • Invested in regular employee training (52 percent)
  • Restricted the use of external data sharing tools (44 percent)

Security in 2019: Ransomware Still Represents the Biggest Risk

Following the devastating and high-profile damage caused by ransomware attacks such as WannaCry and NotPetya, security professionals believe that malware and ransomware remain the biggest risk to their organisation.

When asked what the biggest overall risks to IT was in the coming year, respondents indicated the following:

  • Malware and/ or ransomware (48 percent)
  • External attacks from cybercriminals (45 percent)
  • Accidental data breaches by employees (40 percent)
  • Also noted: phishing and/ or spear phishing (39 percent); malicious internal breaches (31 percent); DDoS attacks (22 percent)

“The explosive growth of unstructured data in email, messaging apps and collaboration platforms has made it easier than ever for employees to share data beyond traditional security protections – combine this with the growing cultural need to share everything immediately, and organisations are facing the perfect storm for an accidental breach,” said Egress Chief Revenue Officer and NA General Manager Mark Bower. “What really stands out in the survey though, is that despite onerous regulations being enacted, companies are still failing to encrypt data before enabling employees to share it. Encryption is a well-known best practice that can prevent accidents from leading to a major incident resulting in hefty compliance penalties.”

About the Egress Data Privacy Survey

The Egress data privacy survey was conducted by Opinion Matters research group among 1,000 U.S.-based senior and mid-level security professionals at organisations of 500 employees or more.

For more information, please download the full survey and report from:

About Egress

As advanced persistent threats continue to evolve, we recognize that people are the biggest risk to organizations’ security and are most vulnerable when using email.

Egress is the only cloud email security platform to continuously assess human risk and dynamically adapt policy controls, preparing customers to defend against advanced phishing attacks and outbound data breaches before they happen. Leveraging contextual machine learning and neural networks, with seamless integration using cloud-native API architecture, Egress provides enhanced email protection, deep visibility into human risk, and instant time to value.

Trusted by the world’s biggest brands, Egress is private equity backed with offices in London, Sheffield, Cheltenham, New York, Boston, and Toronto.