by Damian Alderson
If the COVID-19 pandemic taught us anything it is that certain workflows and workplaces can, with a couple of tweaks and adjustments, reach optimal levels of performance even when an entire workforce is working remotely. Many physical office spaces have been shut down and millions of employees were (and some still are) forced to work remotely from the comfort of their own homes.
Among the main bottlenecks with these scenarios is the lack of physical interaction in real-time. This is why numerous employees ended up relying on both professional and consumer communication channels and apps like Slack, Zoom, Facebook Messenger, Telegram, WhatsApp, WeChat, and other similar platforms that can be used to improve communication among the employees working remotely.
This has been the case even before the pandemic. The 2019 research conducted by Speakup showed that more than half of remote workers regularly used consumer messaging apps for work-related purposes, while a big chunk of those interactions was not reported to their respective internal communications departments or HRs.
These numbers are now even higher, while the main concern remains the same – what about data protection and privacy?
Data Security and Privacy Risks With Messaging Apps
The companies whose employees use consumer-based messaging apps face high data protection and privacy risks, especially if they use these platforms for work-related issues and do so without the approval of their superiors.
It is no secret that each and every commercial communication app can lead to the leak of both confidential work-related data and secrets, along with personal information breaches. These leaks can be either accidental or intentional, with the latter accounting for data breaches that can seriously damage a company’s reputation and/or resources.
For example, if an employee loses their device or it gets stolen, it is extremely hard for the business’s IT department to delete or restrict access to all the sensitive data (business and personal) that is available via all those messaging apps located on that portable device. These types of data leaks would lead to numerous breach notification obligations and requirements (depending on the applicable data protection and privacy law).
These scenarios are extremely complicated and can lead to a plethora of issues, especially if a company operates within highly regulated industries like FinTech and MedTech. These industries feature much more severe laws and consequences (both reputational and budget-based) that come with them, especially if a worker has been using commercial messaging platforms for work in an unauthorized manner.
How to Address, Measure and Mitigate These Risks
Every business must make sure that they have proper data protection and governance plans in place. Personal data and business-related information are extremely sensitive, which means tackling the security, confidentiality, integrity, accessibility and archiving of these data pieces should be among your main priorities. This involves regulating the transfer of sensitive data over commercial messaging apps the right way.
Organizations must assess data loss risks induced by emailing platforms, browser-based communication channels, social media messaging apps, and other similarly risky platforms. They must also implement appropriate measures and policies in order to minimize the chances of facing privacy breaches and data losses.
We already know how critical infrastructure and corporate email security are for any business, regardless of the size or industry. But making sure that security layers around mobile messaging are adequate as well has become one of the main data protection tasks for modern companies.
Here is how you can ensure these protection layers in 3 easy steps:
Most companies still have a weak grasp of how extensively their employees use and rely on commercial communication apps. For these purposes, it is recommended to use mobile device management solutions capable of tracking down or assessing the number of portable devices running messaging apps.
Conduct surveys (it can be an anonymous one) to gain insight into the ways your employees are using these apps for work-related matters.
3. Implementing 3rd-Party Solutions
It is recommended that businesses seek third-party expert advice to both – perform proper risk assessments and mitigate potential data loss or breach scenarios. These assessments are typically performed according to the company’s unique security, data and message archiving, retention and privacy policies, as well as compliance frameworks. For example, if you know that your employees use apps like WhatsApp, consider using this WhatsApp archive solution for regulating this type of communication in a business setting in order to stay compliant with all the critical laws.
It is advised that inhouse decision-makers (especially those for security, privacy, and compliance) work together to give external professionals the most tangible data and insights into how they should manage data protection and privacy risks and challenges.
Try Using Secure Messaging Platforms
Almost all businesses that face risks induced by using non-authorized commercial messaging platforms have one thing in common – these entities are not using secure and protected communication channels across their entire company. Sure, apps like Facebook’s Messenger and WhatsApp have become an inevitable part of a modern business landscape, but using highly secure communication channels for the most critical and sensitive company and client data is highly recommended.
Solutions like these add important security layers to business communication and bridge the ever-present security gaps that commercial platforms unfortunately feature. Not only will this up the security layers within your teams’ real-time communication, but it will also improve employee interaction and boost productivity.
The year 2020 has significantly altered the modern business workplace. Email platforms, portable devices, the BYOD model, and remote work are here to stay. The use of commercial mobile messaging apps and communication channels for work-related communication has certainly become an inevitable part of the new normal. And since there’s pretty much no way around it, it is highly recommended that organizations bridge all the potential security and data protection gaps, sooner rather than later.
About the Author: Damian is a business consultant and a freelance blogger from New York. He writes about the latest tech solutions and marketing insights. Follow him on Twitter for more articles.