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Strengthening Collaborative Security

Arthur Cole

Collaboration is emerging as a top priority for the enterprise heading into the next decade, but as with all technology initiatives, it is important to address its weaknesses before organizations become too dependent on it.

The perennial weakness for nearly all IT technologies, of course, is security, and the fact that collaboration is designed to share information among multiple users quickly and easily makes it all the more necessary to ensure that data does not fall into the wrong hands.

According to Data Bridge Market Research, the global enterprise collaboration market is already valued at nearly $26 billion per year. With a projected annual growth rate of 13.65 percent until 2024 at least, the market could top $60 billion by mid-decade. At the moment, the market is scattered across multiple systems and solutions, such as file-sharing and social networking, although it also incorporates a wide range of consulting, integration and implementation services for both cloud and on-premises platforms. And while key drivers include increased data mobilization and demand for ever-greater efficiency among the knowledge workforce, growth is likely to be hampered by legal risks and high start-up costs.

Security concerns over emerging collaboration platforms are particularly acute among highly regulated industries, said Irwin Lazar, vice president and service director at Nemertes Research.  Many of them have already implemented comprehensive security strategies for their documents, emails, IMs and other forms of communication, but as collaboration apps become the mode of choice, particularly among younger workers, the challenges related to security and risk management rise to a new level. Even solutions like end-to-end encryption are not fool-proof, and they often require fairly sophisticated governance policies to make data available to the right people in a manner that supports collaboration’s core value proposition.


Already, the casual way in which collaboration platforms treat sensitive data like PPI and passwords is providing opportunities that can be exploited by hackers – and not just those operating outside of the enterprise. A recent report by Wiretap examining the risks related to insider access to collaboration platforms like Yammer, Workplace and Slack found that they are rife with uncontrolled sharing of sensitive data and actually act as conduits for spreading negativity and toxic behavior among the knowledge workforce. The firm examined more than 1 million messages and found that confidential information was being shared on 1 out of 118 communications while passwords were leaked on one out of 262. These are small ratios, to be sure, but when extrapolated across the entire messaging universe, organizations could be risking critical data tens of thousands of times every day.

Addressing this “inconvenient truth” about collaboration can be a tricky matter, says Wiretap COO Greg Moran. Increased monitoring of collaborative environments, for example, may end up stifling communication if workers start to feel that Big Brother is watching them all the time. While employee monitoring is nothing new in the workplace, implementing a monitoring solution on an emerging platform similar to, or sometimes even integrated with, the ones that workers use in their private lives can cause quite a stir if not done in the right context and with full disclosure. But the fact remains that in many cases, such as those dealing with workplace harassment and cronyism, proper collaboration monitoring can actually help employees.

Like any technology, the key to securing collaborative workflows is proper governance, and this will have to be an ongoing effort by the enterprise, not set-it-and-forget-it. Modern business is simply too dynamic and too fast-paced to assume that just because data is secure at the moment it will continue to be so into the future.

By laying the foundation now so that everybody understands how to manage information collaboratively, organizations can hopefully avert a lot of confusion, and lost productivity, later.

Arthur Cole writes about infrastructure for IT Business Edge. Cole has been covering the high-tech media and computing industries for more than 20 years, having served as editor of TV Technology, Video Technology News, Internet News and Multimedia Weekly. His contributions have appeared in Communications Today and Enterprise Networking Planet and as web content for numerous high-tech clients like TwinStrata and Carpathia. Follow Art on Twitter @acole602.


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