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Employee use of cloud storage puts UK business data at risk

UK businesses are struggling to catch up with employee use of cloud-based storage services and policies to maintain data security, according to security firm WinMagic

Employee use of cloud-based storage services is putting UK business data at risk, a survey of 1,000 office workers has revealed. 

Employees are increasingly using cloud storage services such as Google Drive and Dropbox to store work files and data, the survey shows.

This represents a threat to businesses, which are struggling to catch up with employee use of these services and policies to maintain data security, according to security firm WinMagic, which commissioned the survey.

UK companies are placing themselves at risk of cyber attacks and data breaches as a result of rampant use of cloud storage services and unclear or non-existent corporate policies, the security firm warned.

The survey revealed widespread and often unilateral employee use of cloud storage services that could be leaving businesses with poor visibility of where their data is stored, placing potentially confidential data at risk.

The survey revealed that over 41% of employees use cloud storage services at least once a week, while 50% use personal equipment to access work information and services at least one a week.

However, despite this widespread adoption by workers across the UK, just 35% of employees use a company-sanctioned service, while 43% are unaware of their employer’s policy on the use of these services and 22% said they did not even know if their company had a policy on cloud storage.

Of those employees who use cloud storage at least once a week, one in 10 have no confidence in the security of their data, and one in 20 use cloud-based services even though these services are restricted by their company.

Challenges of securing data in the cloud

“This survey highlights the challenge businesses face when managing data security in the cloud,” said Darin Welfare, vice-president for Europe at WinMagic.

“IT teams have had to cede a level of control as employees have greater access to services outside corporate control, and this research indicates that IT must take additional steps to protect and control company data in this new technology landscape,” he said.

Read more about security and cloud services

According to Welfare, the wide range of employee adoption of these services also means an additional layer of complexity when devising corporate policies and education programmes for the use of cloud storage services.

Employees are increasingly accessing work documents and services outside the office, particularly regular users of cloud storage, the survey showed, with 70% of employees who use cloud storage at least once a week also using work equipment at home at least once a week. The UK average is lower, at 47%.

Welfare said the survey highlights a clear disparity between employee use of cloud services and company IT policy, which suggests that businesses must increase focus on devising clearer security policies and better staff training programmes to minimise the risk for the business.

“One of the key steps that any organisation can take to mitigate the risk from the widespread use of unsanctioned cloud services is to ensure that all company data is encrypted before employees have the opportunity to upload to the cloud,” he said.

Businesses must catch up with the employee cloud revolution or risk potentially catastrophic data loss
Darin Welfare, WinMagic

If a cloud service provider does not adequately put in place control mechanisms and procedures to ensure security across their infrastructure, he said encryption ensures that sensitive and valuable corporate data cannot be accessed by anyone who is not authorised to do so.

“This approach provides the company with the assurance that the IT team is in control of all company data before any employees turn to cloud storage services,” said Welfare.

“This survey should serve as a wake-up call for IT teams to focus resources on crafting stringent security policies and employee education programmes about the potential dangers of cloud services that will help the business stay secure. Businesses must catch up with the employee cloud revolution or risk potentially catastrophic data loss,” he said.

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