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Two light bulbs

How IT can shine a light on dark data

by ​George Dearing
 
It’s time to bring the security issues of dark data into the light.

Today’s IT managers are facing increasing pressure to manage a growing stockpile of “dark,” unstructured data. Comprised of human-generated files (think spreadsheets, presentations, PDFs, Word documents, etc.), dark data is often where an organization’s most sensitive information resides.

How can your business protect its unstructured data? It starts with IT leadership that puts a priority on unstructured data.

​IT professionals need to work across departments within the business to prioritize security and recognize that today’s enterprises require a unified view of structured and unstructured data.

Examples of dark data

A recent CIO article says that 80 percent of all data in any organization is unstructured and within that unstructured data, nearly 100 percent of an organization’s sensitive information is contained.1

The low-hanging fruit of the dark data world is most often the terabytes of personal .PST files from employees’ email applications. These files can consume massive amounts of storage resources—and often contain secure information. IT should be responsible for putting processes in place for monitoring and deleting .PST files and personal archives.

Leveraging more sophisticated analytics and data tools and processes can improve (and minimize when necessary) legacy data use cases. Clustering techniques, for example, can help visualize dark data content patterns and identify application and policy development groupings.
 

Data mapping: The importance of visibility

In order to monitor the security of your network, IT departments need to gain visibility into all of the enterprise’s current data repositories and systems. This process usually begins with creating a data map, which outlines all of the existing repositories within the network. This initial mapping is key when IT is identifying the right levels of security, and the mapping exercise can save weeks of lost time, costs and productivity.
 

Process makes perfect

Once an accurate view of the network is established, IT should set up ongoing processes that allow secure management of the data inventory and other information assets. There are plenty of analytics and business intelligence tools available to extract value from the data, once you’re down that path. But with regard to security, this stage is when access control plays a big role. Ensure that the right team is in place to delegate controlled access across the company. This process not only helps all parts of the organization minimize compliance risks, but may also help departments gain more insight from data they didn’t know they had under their jurisdiction.

How to manage dark data

Prioritize security and recognize that today’s enterprises require a unified view of structured and unstructured data.
 

Learning to manage dark data

Dark data management is still a newer discipline in the IT world, and the technology is moving fast. But IT professionals need to work across departments within the business to prioritize security and recognize that today’s enterprises require a unified view of structured and unstructured data. Putting the right processes in place to streamline workflows and keep information secure is where the real ROI lies.
 
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George Dearing has more than 15 years of experience helping organizations understand how information, technology, and the internet impact business. As founder of the Dearing Group, he advises clients on strategy, business development and communications. After working for one of the first internet consulting firms (USWeb) in North America, he’s run marketing groups at software companies, directed strategic alliances at professional services firms, and helped early-stage companies deliver software-based business solutions.
 
 
1 Michael Santarcangelo. "7 Ideas for Security Leaders." CIO Magazine. January 28, 2015. http://www.cio.com/article/2876758/security0/7-ideas-for-security-leaders.html#slide4