Dark data represents a large potential cybersecurity exposure for U.S. and U.K. businesses, according to a cybersecurity report titled "Understanding Risk: The Dark Side of Data" from Donnelley Financial Solutions.

Defined as data that a company has collected but no longer needs — ranging from outdated user information to old employee records — dark data is often forgotten and unprotected by corporations, creating substantial liabilities as well as tempting targets for cybercriminals.

The rise in dark data has accompanied corporations' increased interest in accumulating a wide variety of datasets (often called Big Data), which can be used to improve marketing, product development, customer service and a host of other activities. Dark data can be unstructured, sensitive, personal, regulated, vulnerable or high-risk information an organization has collected and stored over time.

The risk of dark data

The report, which analyzed findings from finance, legal, HR and IT professionals at large public and private companies in the U.S. and U.K., found that nearly seven out of 10 enterprise leaders said data storage presents more risk than value. But while 33% of senior leaders and IT personnel are aware of the risks of dark data, 18% of others within organizations are less knowledgeable.

In addition to worrying about managing dark data, 96% of executives are concerned about data fraud and 95% are worried data breach incidents will increase over the next two years. More than half of respondent organizations have experienced an incident this year, and others indicated they had more than five data breaches and/or data fraud incidents this past year.

Responding to dark data threats

Company leaders are focused on improving how their companies protect sensitive data, with 77% enacting new policies and processes, 72% increasing reporting measures and 75% investing in partners and software and solutions.

To enhance protection, more than 83% indicated they would choose new technology tools over adding more team members.

For more report information, click here.