Saving Paper Might Cause A Data Breach

Saving Paper Might Cause A Data BreachMost of us want to save money and the environment.  Many organizations are looking at more sustainable ways of doing business and thinking about reducing your printing and paper consumption is a great place to start. Going green is a corporate goal for many organizations and is not only good for the planet, but good for the bottom line. But you can take it too far with potentially dangerous consequences.

If you look next to your printers, you’ll see blank sheets, banner pages, draft and duplicate documents sitting there. There are documents that people forgot to pick up and after awhile they don’t need them. All of them are headed for the trash or recycling bin, so why not reuse them?

I was at a customer’s offices recently and they had a policy to reuse printed paper to save money and trees.  Good idea, since so much of the paper goes to waste.  I needed to print a document and emailed it from my iPad to the receptionist at the front desk.  She printed it for me and directed me to the printer near the front door.

When I grabbed the printout, I turned it over and was a bit surprised. The first page had the word DRAFT on it, but the second and third pages were part of this company’s annual salary and budget planning.  The last few pages were from a 2 year strategic business plan. The documents talked about acquisition targets, financing options through different banks and plans for cutting a whole division. There was also information about discontinuing a product line.

Talk about a security problem.  This company had a very strict policy of signing in visitors, accompanying them throughout the building and having physical security at numerous labs and other sensitive areas.  But right here in the front lobby was reused printer paper with confidential data.

I could have calmly put the printouts into my briefcase and walked out the door with some very sensitive information. I might have called a stock broker and bought the acquisition target’s stock hoping to make a fast buck. Or I could have called the local newspaper or television station with some juicy information about this company’s plans. I might have contacted the company’s competitors and caused major problems.

I did none of these and showed the receptionist the back of my printouts. She thanked me and quickly put them into the shredder. She reprinted my document and this time there was nothing confidential on the back.  I also suggested that she contact someone in purchasing, IT and security and let them know about this problem.

At a minimum they should put watermarks on their documents so that if something sensitive got outside the company, they could trace the source.  It also helps deter passing on the information, since whoever has the document may think twice about using it.

Being green is important, but not when it sacrifices your security.  If you reuse paper, make sure there is nothing confidential or sensitive on the back.  Or you might see your company’s plans on the evening news.


Photo credit Marcin Wichary

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