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The recent worldwide controversy surrounding confidential material being supplied to Wiki Leaks by anonymous whistle-blowers - leading to the publishing of tens of thousands of secret US military documents in the likes of The New York Times and The Guardian - should act as a catalyst for IT departments across the globe to take control of company data governance and offer a guarantee that employees have access to only the information they need.

At present, IT professionals - rather than the people that create the data (be it a spreadsheet, PowerPoint presentation or company report) - are the ones making many of the decisions about permissions, acceptable use, and acceptable access review. However, as IT personnel aren't equipped with adequate business context around the growing volumes of data, they're only able to make a best effort guess as to how to manage and protect each data set.

Until organizations start to shift the decision making responsibility to business data owners, it is IT that has to enforce rules for who can access what on shared file systems, and keep those structures current through data growth and user role changes. IT needs to determine who can access data, who is accessing it, who should have access, and what is likely to be sensitive.

Here are some must-do actions for the IT team's 'to do' list, to carry out as part of a daily data management routine, to create a bench mark for data governance:

Identify Data Owners

The IT department should keep a current list of data business owners (e.g. those who have created original data) and the folders and SharePoint sites under their responsibility. By having this list "at the ready," IT can expedite a number of the data governance tasks, including access authorization, revocation and review, and identifying data for archival. The net effect of this simple process is a marked increase in the accuracy of data access entitlement and, therefore, data protection.

Remove global groups from ACLs and perform data entitlement reviews

It is not uncommon for folders on file shares to have access control permissions allowing "everyone," or all "domain users" (nearly everyone) to access the data contained. This creates a significant security risk, for any data placed in that folder will inherit those "exposed" permissions, and those who place data in these wide-open folders may not be aware of the lax access settings. Global access to folders should be removed and replaced with rules that give access to the explicit groups that need it.


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