The concept of dark data may sound like something from Star Wars, but in fact, it’s a common and growing part of business databases. It’s a subject that is addressed by marketing experts like Jim Tsokanos on Twitter. Essentially, dark data is information that businesses and other organizations collect or maintain but don’t necessarily use. For some organizations, it represents a potential goldmine of marketing possibilities that should be utilized for more effective results. However, all this additional information that organizations store in digital form also poses the possibility of security risks.
Business owners may be familiar with a graphic that can easily be found online; it represents the amount of information readily available through Internet search engines compared with so-called hidden data. The amount of hidden data is much larger. Examples include company websites that only employees are allowed to access, as well as private message boards that cannot be accessed without membership and a password. Dark data is somewhat like this. It may actually constitute the bulk of an organization’s digital information, but it lurks under the surface of data that’s being used.
The possible security problems with dark data involve the information essentially being ignored after it’s gathered. Nobody has evaluated it or analyzed it, and it just sits there, taking up space. It might include archived email, survey results that were never processed and human resources files on previous employees and job applicants. If hackers ever breach the system, they’ll have access to all this information, most of which probably could have been deleted long ago. The fewer Social Security numbers and other types of sensitive information are included in the databases, the better.
Businesses should address the problem, even though it may be time-consuming. Owners and managers might think of it as they would clearing up actual physical clutter in an office, warehouse, factory or storage area. Information on prospective new clients can now see the light of day and be analyzed for marketing purposes. Those marketing opportunities can pay for the time spent on this project many times over. Everything that is unnecessary to keep can be deleted.