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Are you in the dark about dark data?

Chances are, yes. 

“Dark data” is the elephant in the room; everyone knows it’s there, but enterprises don’t want to address it. It’s often considered to be “someone else’s problem,” whether that’s the IT, compliance, privacy or legal department. Dark data has little value if improperly managed; it’s risky and costly to store, and each year that liability only grows larger. Even the optimist agrees the term “dark data” carries an ominous Star Wars-like connotation of a toxic universe bent on destroying the world of good, bright data. The good news is that it’s also a universe filled with opportunity. 

Why does data remain dark?

Dark data is comprised of all the additional information assets collected and stored during regular business activities that are generally disregarded for other purposes. It tends to be unstructured in nature: documents, images, video and audio streams, social media posts or emails. Collectively, these types of data account for 80-90% or more of the overall digital data universe, according to industry analysts. 

“Increased data growth over the past decade has created an unstructured data nightmare,” says Alan Dayley, research director at Gartner.

The proliferation of personal devices, social networks and remote workplaces has worsened the dark data problem because we’re now “digital hoarders” — no one wants to delete anything. As a result, even a well-staffed, adequately funded IT department has its hands full managing cloud and on-premises systems and applications. 

So, why does data remain dark? There are three reasons: 

  1. It’s enormous and demands dedicated effort to fix.
  2. Organizations generally lack the tools, time and technologies required to extract business value from this diverse and disordered digital resource. 
  3. We can thank Albert Einstein for this: “We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.” 

Tackling dark data

The first step is to discover all the unstructured data hiding out in your organization. What are you searching for? Emails, images, log files, recorded calls, financial statements or social posts… all that data may be on network servers, laptops, the cloud, surveillance video, Dropbox, SharePoint — the list goes on. While the value of your dark data may not be immediately apparent, chances are it does offer benefits. A recent report from Splunk found that 77% of global respondents agreed that finding and capturing dark data should be a top priority.

Being able to articulate business use cases for leveraging dark data will help to build stakeholder engagement and buy-in. For example, a global natural resources company had amassed a vast amount of unstructured data over decades of mineral exploratory work. This data needed to be mapped against their structured operational data to discover untapped opportunities. Once they aligned and analyzed their dark data, they were able to find additional opportunities for value creation. 

Get to zero dark data 

The potential is exciting, but it’s critical to focus efforts on areas that matter to your business. Using software like file analysis to uncover all dark data in your organization and transform it into actionable intelligence can help your business compete by being more attuned to the needs of individual customers. Extracting and eradicating non-value dark data will help make your organization less exposed to risks and liability in the event of a breach. A lighter repository translates into lower storage and curation costs. Regulatory compliance also becomes more manageable.

This article originally ran in Today’s Cybersecurity Leader, a monthly cybersecurity-focused eNewsletter for security end users, brought to you by Security magazine. Subscribe here.

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