Risks to Unstructured Data

Risks to Unstructured Data

“Risks to Unstructured Data” is the second in a series of blog posts from TAG Cyber on understanding zero trust data access.

By Chris Wilder, TAG Cyber

Estimated reading time: 2 minutes

Serious cybersecurity risks can emerge when sensitive unstructured data is not handled and shared securely by an enterprise

Nearly all the data created today is unstructured. The typical enterprise has little administrative control over the inventory, accessibility, and organization of its unstructured data, including the shared files and folders of its employees, third-party providers, and even customers. The control gap creates an undesirable situation where access to unstructured data is unmanageable to comply with security policies for local or remote access.

Risks to Unstructured Data

The consequences of weak control over unstructured data are as follows:

Unauthorized Disclosure of Sensitive Data

  • When unstructured data is exposed, the consequences can be severe, especially since a high percentage of corporate intellectual property exists in unstructured formats.
  • The effects of poorly managed, unstructured data can extend to compliance violations. With all the negative impacts one would expect with such deficiencies, especially in regulated environments.

User Privacy Deficiencies

  • The privacy implications of unmanaged data results in non-compliance with standards such as the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), which requires fine-grained management of personal data.

Increased Data Theft

  • The more data an organization has, the more likely it will be compromised. Because of the vast amount of unstructured data, determined hackers have an easier time avoiding detection as they gain valuable insights within the enterprise.

These risks should clarify how important it has become for organizations to deploy an effective solution for managing and securing their unstructured data. This data’s underlying representation and use are likely to not change in such a deployment. Instead, security teams must find ways to integrate good solutions into existing environments that are not disrupted or slowed down.

Although structured data offers plenty of sensitive information, the real prize that hackers and data thieves are interested in is unstructured data.

Proactive Steps to Secure Unstructured Data

Unstructured data includes sensitive information in emails, messaging applications like Slack, meeting notes, proprietary source code, etc. Enterprises must be proactive when tackling this growing challenge by implementing three steps to identify, quantify, and control the risks of unstructured data.

Identify and Understand the Data Landscape

  • The first step in any effective data protection and governance program is to ensure access and visibility into all data sources and potential risks are known. Not having a comprehensive understanding and insight into enterprise data brings a host of adverse outcomes, such as a lack of governance, compliance, and privacy regulations.

Data Classification & Quantification

  • Data classification is a method and related technologies to review and compare unstructured data to file types using advanced pattern matching. Classification identifies and normalizes the characteristics of unstructured data.
  • While data classification tools help with visibility and risk analysis, data quantification maps risk profiles to ensure regulatory adherence against governance or compliance frameworks such as HIPPA, PII, GDPR, etc

Controlling the Data

  • Proactive data control and risk management allow enterprises to apply risk mitigation policies for each file based on their risk profile.


CISOs, IT leaders, and data owners must understand effective data risk management’s roles, responsibilities, and outcomes. Traditional data management has shifted from manually gathering information and creating reports to ensuring continual governance, oversight, and risk reduction. Forward-thinking security leaders leverage automated data risk management solutions to provide comprehensive coverage to identify, quantify, and control unstructured data to ensure compliance and confidence when protecting sensitive information.

This article is the second in a series of 5 from TAG Cyber on Understanding Zero Trust Data Access.

In Article 1, TAG Cyber CEO  Dr. Edward Amoroso examines “How To Securely Share Data?”.  In Article 3, TAG Cyber’s Dr. Edward Amoroso expands on this theme to outline zero trust access methods and how zero trust data access might work at the file and folder level for customers. Article 4  provides an overview of their commercial platform for zero trust data access. Article 5 from TAG Cyber’ proposes an action plan for enterprises in this area.

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Chris Wilder is an industry analyst with TAG Cyber specializing in cybersecurity.