Veritas Technologies, a global leader in data protection, availability and insights, has today revealed new research highlighting the dangers of misusing instant messaging (IM) and business collaboration tools. 64% of Singapore office worker employees have admitted to sharing sensitive and business-critical company data using these tools, the survey found.
The Veritas Hidden Threat of Business Collaboration Report, which polled 12,500 office workers across ten countries, including 500 from Singapore, shows employees are taking data out of the control of the businesses that employ them, exposing companies to risk. 54% are saving their own copies of the information they share over IM, while, conversely, 53% of knowledge workers delete it entirely. Either approach could leave companies open to significant fines if regulators ask to see a paper trail.
Sensitive data being shared by employees on these channels includes client information (15%), details on HR issues (13%), contracts (13%), business plans (12%), and even COVID-19 test results (10%), with only 36% employees suggesting that they hadn’t shared anything that could be compromising. The research also reveals that, while employees are using collaboration tools to close deals, process orders and agree pay raises, many are doing this despite believing that there will be no formal record of the discussion or agreement. In fact, only 52% thought that the businesses they worked for were saving this information.
Andy Ng, Vice President and Managing Director for Asia South and Pacific Region at Veritas Technologies, said: “Many businesses have been caught off guard by the global pandemic at the start of 2020. To minimise work disruptions and keep up with the new work model, companies are rushing to bolster their data protection and discovery strategies to include the platforms where their business is actually being done.”
Increased use is compounding issues
The research shows that the challenge is compounded by the amount of time employees are now spending using messaging and collaboration apps: time spent on tools such as Zoom and Teams has increased by 29% since the start of the pandemic. This means employees are now spending, on average, 2.7 hours every day on them, with 29% of employees spending more than half their working week on these applications.
A significant amount of business is now being conducted as routine on these channels and employees are taking agreements as binding. For example, as a result of receiving information over messaging and collaboration tools, 24% of employees have accepted and processed an order, 20% have accepted a reference for a job candidate and 18% have accepted a signed version of a contract.
Sensitive data is being shared on these tools in spite of the fact that 24% of knowledge workers have been reprimanded by bosses for their use of them. These admonishments may have been in vain, however, as 75% of all workers responding to the survey said that they would share this kind of information in the future.
Ng said: “Our message to bosses is simple: don’t fight it – fix it. It is proving to be an uphill battle to restrict employees to ‘approved’ methods of communication and collaboration tools. It will be more effective to adopt proactive measures that will help to regain control of information sharing.”
IM trusted nearly as much as email
When asked which methods of communication provide the most reliable proof that an agreement is binding, the trust that workers had didn’t appear to be based on the ability of a business to capture the discussion as evidence:
Email is viewed as the most reliable affirmation of an agreement at 98%, followed by written letter at 95% and electronic signature at 93%
IM was still trusted by 93%, SMS text by 90% and WhatsApp by 87%
63% even viewed social media as reliable proof that something has been agreed
Ng said: “With work-from-everywhere, business data is sprawling across different locations. Deals are closed, orders processed and sensitive personnel information are being shared on collaboration platforms. It is a business imperative for companies to incorporate the management of this data deluge into their protection and compliance strategies. The implications could be huge if they fail to do so.”
The research also uncovered some interesting patterns that emerge from country-to-country comparisons:
34% of workers would accept an order over an instant messaging app and start processing it globally. But regional differences exist – 49% in China would action the sale, but only 35% in Singapore and South Korea would do the same
While 54% of employees in Singapore are saving their own copies of information shared over instant messaging apps, 75% of office workers in China and 73% in South Korea are doing this
Willingness to use business applications for personal purposes varied considerably. 42% of Singapore employees have used corporate applications for personal conversations compared to 57% of employees in both China and South Korea
Some employers are clearer in enforcing their policies than others with an average of 30% of respondents having been reprimanded by their employer for their IM use. The number increases to 40% in South Korea but goes down to 24% in Singapore
Veritas recommends the following steps for businesses that want to regain control of data being shared over messaging and collaboration tools:
Standardise on a set of collaboration and messaging tools that meet the needs of the business – this will limit the sprawl
Create a policy for information sharing – this will help control the sharing of sensitive information
Train all employees on the policies and tools that are being deployed – this will help to reduce accidental policy breaches
Incorporate the data sets from collaboration and messaging tools into the businesses’ data management strategy using eDiscovery and SaaS data backup solutions – this will empower users to make the most of the tools without putting the business at risk