Go Green with Document Management

The Overlooked Data Security Risk

Posted by Michael Coppola on Oct 12, 2015 5:26:07 PM
Michael Coppola

he Overlooked Security Risk

It seems like nearly every day there’s news of a data security breach somewhere…whether it’s this year’s  Chinese hackers who are believed to have stolen research and development information from several US firms, the notorious possibility of your car’s computer being hacked or last year’s celebrity photo hacking.  From the totally dangerous to the sublimely ridiculous, data breaches and security risks are on everyone’s mind. paper data security risk 

But, surprisingly, one of the biggest security risks hardly ever makes the use, and that risk is paper.  Whether it’s paper files scattered on an employee’s desk or paper credit card statements in your elderly mother’s mailbox.  Paper is easy to access, remarkably hard to trace and low-tech enough that nearly anyone who is so inclined can make away with any data that you or your business has committed to paper…not to mention the ease with which it can simply be “lost” or “misplaced.” 

Even so-called “paperless” institutions such as banks and financial institutions, insurance companies, hospitals and doctor’s offices use paper intake forms for their clients to provide personal data that is then input into a computerized system. 

Government agencies, schools, and other organizations that gather personal data for taxes, property records, absentee reports and other vital statistics nearly all rely on paper forms for the initial gathering of information. 

Just last week, I went into my local bank to make some changes to one of my accounts.  It was a quick change that simply required my signature on two documents.  When representative I was dealing with left her office to make copies of the papers I had signed, I noticed that directly behind her desk were two stacks of paper files.  I could see account numbers on the labels from where I was sitting.  While I couldn’t actually read the numbers, it occurred to me how easy it would be for anyone who was so inclined to obtain those account numbers. 

Now, in her defense, perhaps those files were from old, inactive accounts, and the numbers, even if they were obtained would do a criminal absolutely no good.  I know my bank is fully aware or the requirements to protect sensitive and/or confidential information.  The point is that any information stored on paper has inherent security risks.  But, because cyber-crimes make headlines, we tend to overlook the far more common crime of paper security breaches. 

There are opportunities for paper security breaches daily…from papers and files that are carelessly thrown in the office dumpster to employees who leave papers and files in their cars, on the subway or in the backseat of a taxi, only to have it discovered by some unsavory character who can make use of it in some nefarious way.

How to Control Paper Security Breaches

  • Rules, regulations, and policies that govern the ways in which paper files are handled can help to minimize the risk:
    • Limit where, how and to whom documents are distributed
    • Don’t leave paper in open areas, such as reception desks
    • Store documents in locked file cabinets
    • Follow document destruction procedures

The biggest problem with ALL of these recommendations is that the possibility of human error.  No matter how good your paper-management techniques and policies are, they still rely on people to carry them out, and people are fallible…people make mistakes, they get in a hurry and overlook something, they get distracted and forget. 

A Better Way

When it comes to reducing the possibility of security breaches, properly secured electronic files have the advantage over paper.  Notice that I said “properly secured.”  Just going from paper to digital is not enough.  Digital files can be appropriated nearly as easily as paper:  laptops can be stolen, thumb drives can be misplaced, mobile devices can be hacked.  What does it mean to “properly secure your electronic files?”  Learn more by downloading our white paper below:

DOWNLOAD WHITE PAPER How to Secure Electronic Files




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