The Looming Threat of Orphaned Data: How Abandoned Files Could Destroy Your Business

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Read more about author Michael Jack.

Employees are leaving their jobs in record numbers – both voluntarily and involuntarily.

The amount of employee turnover that occurs each year varies depending on the industry and country. However, layoffs have seemingly become a common occurrence in the business world, with the tech industry being hit particularly hard of late., a website that has been monitoring tech layoffs since March 2020, has compiled data indicating that approximately 128,202 employees have been laid off by 482 tech companies since the beginning of this year.

However, employees are leaving their jobs on their own accord as well. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey (JOLTS), in 2022, the number of total separations increased by 3.2 million to reach 72.3 million. Of these separations, quits accounted for 70%, with 50.6 million workers voluntarily leaving their jobs – the highest annual level of quits recorded in the history of the survey.

In 2023, one could surmise this employee turnover trajectory is likely to continue, driven by several factors, including economic conditions, industry trends, and continued changes in work conditions.

Former employees are leaving a lot of dark data behind.

According to a report by IDC and Seagate, the total amount of data created worldwide is expected to reach 175 zettabytes by 2025. While it’s difficult to estimate how much of that data is generated by employees specifically, it’s clear that the amount of data created by individuals within businesses is growing at an unprecedented rate.

Of course, the amount and type of data created by each employee can vary widely depending on the industry, job role, and the specific tasks performed. However, according to various experts, it is estimated that around 80-90% of that data is unstructured data. That is, it ranges from emails, documents, spreadsheets, presentations, and databases to other less innocent files such as movies, music, images, and Torrents. Torrents, which are often used for sharing large files such as movies, music, and software, can also pose risks, such as the spread of viruses or malware, and the distribution of copyrighted material without permission.

It doesn’t take much to do the math – that is a lot of data former employees are leaving behind.

Orphaned data is risky business. 

Orphaned data refers to data that has no clear owner or purpose within an organization. This can occur when data is created or stored and the individual responsible for it leaves the organization without transferring ownership or knowledge of the data to another person or department. This can lead to several significant risks, including:

Security risks: Orphaned data can become a ticking time bomb of security threats waiting to explode! If this data contains sensitive or confidential information, it can be a goldmine for cybercriminals who can exploit it for their gain. Once this information falls into the wrong hands, it can lead to devastating consequences such as identity theft, financial fraud, or corporate espionage.

Compliance risks: If your business is not managing orphaned data properly, it can accumulate over time and lead to noncompliance with regulations, such as GDPR, SOX, HIPAA, and FISMA. Noncompliance with industry regulations can be a nightmare scenario for businesses. The potential legal and financial penalties can be ruinous, leading to hefty fines, lawsuits, and even business closure.

Operational risks: Orphaned data can wreak havoc on your entire operation. As orphaned data accumulates over time, it takes up valuable storage space, leading to degraded system performance and extended backup windows, which can cause operational disruptions. The consequences of these disruptions can be dire, resulting in delays, lost productivity, and decreased customer satisfaction. But that’s not all: The costs associated with storing and maintaining this data can add up quickly, creating a massive financial burden on your organization.

Reputational risks: Imagine the horror of your business’s name plastered across the headlines of every major news outlet, exposing the loss of sensitive or confidential data due to orphaned data management negligence. This could be a fatal blow to your reputation and customer trust. The damage from such an incident can be immeasurable, and it can take years to recover from the loss of trust and loyalty from customers. Not to mention the costs associated with potential legal actions and settlements.

To address the issue of orphaned data, organizations may need to implement Data Governance policies and procedures to ensure that all data is properly documented, stored, and maintained. This may involve conducting regular data audits, assigning clear ownership and responsibility for data, and establishing guidelines for data creation and storage.

Bottom line: Ignoring the risks of orphaned data is not an option. If you don’t take steps to manage your data effectively, your business’s safety, reputation, and financial stability may be at stake. 

Originally published on the Datadobi blog