Research conducted by data security company Clearswift has shown that 45% of those employees surveyed have mistakenly shared e-mails containing key data with unintended recipients, including personal information (15%), bank details (9%), attachments (13%) and other confidential text (8%).
The research, which surveyed 600 senior business decision-makers and 1,200 employees across the UK, the US, Germany and Australia, also found that employees regularly receive these unintentional e-mails, as well as being guilty of sending them, in turn highlighting an inbound and outbound opportunity for data leakages.
27% of employees claim to have received e-mails containing personal information in error from people outside of their company, with 26% also admitting to receiving attachments in error and 12% stating that they had wrongly received personal bank details.
“With the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) now very firmly in view, the new tenet of shared responsibility makes the problem of receiving and sharing unauthorised information a serious issue,” said Dr Guy Bunker, senior vice-president for products at Clearswift. “e-mail communication is a real pitfall for organisations trying to comply with the GDPR. Stray bank details and ‘hidden’ information in attachments, spreadsheets or reports can create a serious data loss risk. The occasional e-mail going awry may seem innocuous, but when multiplied by the amount of employees within a business, the risk becomes more severe and could lead to a firm falling foul of the new GDPR penalties. If contravened, this can lead to a firm having the ability to process data removed, which could see some businesses grind to a halt.”
Opportunity to act
The research also found that, upon receiving a misplaced e-mail, 31% of employees said they would read the e-mail, with 12% even admitting they would scroll through to read the entire e-mail chain. 45% of employees did say that they would alert the sender to their mistake, giving them the opportunity to take some action. However, a lowly 27% said they would delete the e-mail from their inboxes and deleted items leaving an element of uncertainty.”
Less than half (45%) of employees were familiar with the agreed process or course of action to take upon receiving an e-mail from someone in another company where they were not the intended recipient, while 22% admitted there was no formal process in place whatsoever in their organisation for such situations.
Bunker added: “To offset the inevitable risk associated with e-mail communications, companies need a clear strategy encompassing people, processes and technology. Instilling the values of being a ‘good data citizen’ can engender a sense of data consciousness in the workplace, ensuring that employees are aware of responsible disclosure, and with whom this responsibility sits upon receiving an e-mail in error. However, a formally agreed process or course of action is also a ‘must’ in this day and age.”
In conclusion, Bunker informed Risk UK: “There’s no silver bullet, but technology can offer assurances to help mitigate risks. Adaptive Data Loss Prevention technologies can automate the detection and protection of critical information contained in e-mails and attachments, removing only the information which breaks policy and leaving the rest to continue on to its destination.”