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Containing Data Sprawl In The Work-At-Home Era of COVID-19 And Beyond

As organizations struggle to adapt to a workforce turned remote, data sprawl takes on new meaning. One strategy in particular stands out as a solution for today and tomorrow.

Original post at Medium

The workforce at home is the new reality. How do organizations protect their data now and going forward?

COVID-19 has forced a new and sudden reality on organizations globally. As we all attempt to adapt, a growing challenge for companies of all sizes is how to secure their operations when a large percentage of their employee base abruptly works from home. One particularly dangerous threat in this new context is data sprawl that leads to data loss and theft.

Data sprawl within the firewall of the organization was already uncontrollable. Now it's exploding across the remote landscape - all bets are off.

It’s not a great time for data sprawl. As users disburse to remote access, sensitive information that was used behind the company’s firewalls, now sprawls across the homes of employees, coffee shops and an unknown myriad of offsite devices. Data sprawl within the firewall of the organization was already uncontrollable. Now it's exploding across the remote landscape - all bets are off.

This shift is not going unnoticed. Recent reports detail how malefactors are seizing the opportunity and striking employees now outside the corporate defenses. [1]

As we have been advising, now more than ever, every organization should abandon the 50 year old file sharing technology known as email attachments. Email and its attachments are, at once, the primary vector of cyber attack and rampant data sprawl, resulting in data leakage, intellectual property theft, compliance breaches, ransom and extortion. [2]

Now is the time to replace email attachments with file links. Readily available services (e.g. Box, Egnyte, MS OneDrive, Google Drive), which your organization may already posses, represent a modern and secure alternative that will reduce data sprawl by more than a factor of 10x. In a previous article we calculated that email generates a shocking 55,000 duplicate files per user per year. [3] By adopting file share links this number drops radically to around 5,000.

How a single file, sent as an email attachment to remote workers, replicates

By embedding files into the message, email attachments self-replicate at the same rate in which email does during its journey from sender to recipients. This replication occurs even if the receiving party is not interested in the file and ignores it completely. With standard email, ignored files are delivered to the end user, potentially her multiple devices, and persist there, often for years.

Files delivered through email as a file link result in a very different data sprawl scenario. File links only produce files once they have been accessed — access that can be secured and controlled, unlike standard email attachments. The ramifications are profound given the significant replication of email delivery. No longer is the file duplicated as the message traverses the Internet, because there is no file in the email. If the file is ignored, there is no file proliferation.

Here the email is sent with a file link, rather than with an attachment

The Power of File Link Preview

Furthermore, studies show that most recipients who do access the attachments, do so only to view the file and not edit. File share links can be configured to provide file preview prior to enabling download. One study testing delivery of files as links to 1,900 employees resulted in 51% of employees accessing the file of which 87% previewed the file and only 13% actually downloaded it. [4] This study demonstrates that sending the file over email as a file link created 114 files (downloads). If the file had been sent as a standard email attachment the resulting duplication would have been 1,900 (each email delivery), plus 961 (every user that accessed the file to view or download) or 2,861 files — a difference of 25 times in file duplication between standard attachments and file links! Amazingly, this number doesn’t take into account the email duplication caused by email system redundancy or archives, which would result in somewhere around 75x more duplication of attached files when compared to file links!

Test conducted by Crescent Electric shows how an email sent with a file shared as a link, to 1,900


The benefits of replacing email attachments go far beyond data sprawl and include protection against malicious files, large file transmission, reduced storage and network costs, to name a few. All companies should replace antiquated email attachments for modern and secure cloud storage. The benefits are tangible and quantified in terms of increased security, information governance and reduced costs. [3] More investment in user training can help get users to adopt sending files as secure links rather than as standard attachments. Tools like mxHero can facilitate by automating the replacement of email attachments for cloud storage links on both outbound and inbound messages. Let COVID-19 be the catalyst to a much more robust and responsible organization across a wide spectrum of challenges intrinsic to email’s outdated file sharing technology. It has been said that “what does not kill me makes me stronger.”[5] This pandemic will pass, and when it does, we can emerge stronger!

Original post at Medium



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