Stale data is data collected that is no longer needed by an organization for daily operations. Sometimes the data collected was never needed at all. Most organizations store a significant amount of stale data, which may include:
- Old employee lists
- Multiple versions of presentation decks
- Outdated personal data
- Old usage data
- Historical behavioral data
- Outdated research data
Simply creating an updated version of a file and sharing it but not deleting the obsolete versions increases the quantity of stale or inactive data. This type of activity happens many times a day in the typical organization.
Increasingly, petabytes of data are stored in different public and private cloud platforms and are dispersed around the world. These file shares and document management systems, often poorly secured, present an appealing target for cyber attackers. If organizations store a significant amount of unstructured data, they are unlikely to have visibility into their data surface footprint, and even less likely to be protecting it adequately. Stale and unstructured data may be:
- Easily accessible
- Poorly secured
- Unmonitored for data access
Stale data is also not relevant to daily operations and therefore can impede a business’s ability to make good business decisions based on current market conditions. A study by Dimensional Research showed that “82 percent of companies are making decisions based on stale information” and “85 percent state this stale data is leading to incorrect decisions and lost revenue.”
The shift to the cloud creates several challenges. Many organizations do not know what data it has, where it is located (on premises, in public or private cloud environments, or a mix of these), why it is being stored, and how the data is protected.
Although big data and data analysis can provide actionable insights and improve automation capabilities, much of the data organizations collect, process, and store is unorganized and unstructured. Unfortunately, stale or inactive data can increase storage costs and security risks alike, without providing any business benefit at all. To reduce risks, organizations must identify stale data and then decide whether to move the data (storing it more securely), archive the data, or delete it. Organizations must also establish a consistent policy to identify and manage stale data on an ongoing basis.