Dubai: Nearly 90 per cent of employees in the UAE have shared sensitive and business-critical company data using instant messaging (IM) and business collaboration tools. That's according to their own admission.
A survey by Veritas that polled 12,500 office workers across 10 countries, including the UAE, revealed that employees are taking data out of the control of the organisations that employ them, thus exposing the companies to risk.
“We have seen a dramatic shift in how we, as businesses, communicate both with our employees and our customers in the region," said Johnny Karam, Managing Director & Vice President of International Emerging region at Veritas Technologies. "And companies are rushing to bolster their data protection and discovery strategies to include the platforms where their business is actually being done.”
No way out
As per the study, around 62 per cent are saving their copies of the information they share over IM, while, conversely, 47 per cent of those surveyed in the UAE delete it entirely. “Either approach could leave companies open to significant fines if regulators ask to see a paper trail,” said Veritas.
Sensitive data being shared by employees on these channels includes client information (28 per cent), details on HR issues (22 per cent), contracts (19 per cent), business plans (33 per cent), and even COVID-19 test results (13 per cent).
However, less than a third of employees suggest that they hadn’t shared anything that could be compromising. The research also shows that while employees are using collaboration tools to close deals, process orders and agree on pay raises, many are doing this despite believing that there will be no formal record of the discussion or agreement. In fact, 69 per cent thought that the businesses they worked for were saving this information.
The research shows that the challenge is compounded by the amount of time employees are now spending using messaging and collaboration apps. Time spent on tools such as Zoom and Teams has increased by 20 per cent since the start of the pandemic.
A significant amount of business is now being conducted as routine on these channels and employees are taking agreements as binding. Sensitive data is being shared on these tools in spite of the fact that 33 per cent of knowledge workers have been reprimanded by bosses for their use of them.
“It is now clear that constraining employees to ‘approved’ methods of communication and collaboration tools isn’t effective. Instead, our message is simple: don't fight it - fix it,” said Karam.
While 63% of employees are saving their own copies of information shared over instant messaging apps, 75% of office workers in China are doing this compared to just 44% in the UK.
55% of UAE employees have used corporate applications for personal conversations, almost on par with employees in China and South Korea (57%), compared to just 32% in the UK.
Email is viewed as a reliable affirmation of an agreement by 97 per cent, followed by electronic signature at 94 per cent. IM was trusted by 95 per cent, SMS by 91 per cent and WhatsApp by 87 per cent.
“It is now critical for companies to include this rapidly growing volume of data in their protection and compliance envelope - If they don't, the implications could be huge,” said Karam.