Managed IT

10 Messy Desk Mistakes That Threaten Data Security in Your Office

10 Messy Desk Mistakes That Threaten Data Security in Your Office

by Todd Stanton - June 14, 2016

It may sound like simple common sense, but keeping your desk and work area tidy is an often overlooked component of data security. It’s also the perfect place to start improving your security habits.

A messy desk also makes it more difficult to realize something is missing, such as a folder with hard copy print-outs of customer lists. In addition to increasing the likelihood of something being removed, a cluttered desk means that the discovery of any theft will likely be delayed — perhaps by days or even weeks if the victim is out of the office or distracted by competing projects or priorities. Such delays make it more difficult to determine who the perpetrator is and where the stolen material might now be located.

Encouraging yourself, your team and other coworkers to maintain a neat desk pays off in two ways. In addition to making digital and paper assets more secure, people with clean desks are more apt to be productive, and therefore happy, because they can quickly — and safely — access the tools and resources they need to do their jobs.

Read on to learn about the top 10 most common messy desk mistakes that you should start avoiding TODAY!

The following list represents 10 “messy desk” mistakes employees are prone to commit and which could cause irreparable harm to the business, the employee, fellow employees, customers and business partners. 

These are all bad habits for which to remind yourself and co-workers to stop:

1) Leaving computer screens on without password protection

Anyone passing by has easy access to all the information on the device, as well as that which can be accessed on the company network and other data storage locations from the device or user profile that is logged in. This could potentially even result in innocent employees being blamed for disruption or loss originating from their workstation, so be sure to lock down screen settings.

RELATED: 5 Key Principles for Data Security

2) Placing documents on the desk that could contain sensitive information or forgetting to shred documents before discarding

Any document may contain sensitive information, even if it’s not obvious at first glance. Information that may seem useless to many — such as records from former customers, purchase confirmations, and even an old boarding pass or your personal (non-work) email address — could potentially be used in an attack if it gets into the wrong hands. It’s best to shred or file away everything, rather than taking a risk.

3) Failing to close file cabinets

dm-stat-itcosts-20tofileadocument-120tofindamisfileddocument-220toreproducealostdocument.pngSpeaking of filing documents away, it's only effective if you remember to close the file cabinet afterwards! Open file cabinets make it easy for someone to steal sensitive information and more difficult to realize a theft has occurred.

Better yet, ditch those antiquated old file cabinets altogether in favor of a digital document management system. These paperless systems are more secure, flexible, customizable and even searchable — so misfiled documents won't be as much of a pain anymore. Plus, many of these systems can be remotely accessed from a web browser, which is a very nice upgrade compared to your big old metal filing cabinet, especially for those who need to be productive outside the office.

RELATED: The Top 7 Benefits of Document Management

4) mobile phones and USB drives Left out in the open

They likely contain sensitive business and/or personal information and are easy to pick up quickly in passing without being caught in the act. The preview message that shows on the locked screen of your phone could even potentially give away sensitive data/info to wandering eyes. 

5) Neglecting to erase notes on whiteboards

They often display confidential information on products, new ideas and proprietary business processes.

6) Dropping backpacks or bags out in the open

There’s often at least one device or folder with sensitive information inside.

7) Writing login credentials on sticky notes

Writing user names and passwords on slips of paper or post-it notes is also a big no-no, especially if you leave them out on your desk, stuck to the edge of your computer monitor, etc. This is especially important given that user names and passwords are typically used to log in to more than one site.

You may think it's no big deal for people to see the login credentials for the site you use to make those cute grumpy cat memes that your co-workers love. However, those credentials could be the same or use similar components to the credentials you use to login to sites that have confidential info. Don't make life (or hacking yours, as the case may be) any easier for cyber criminals!

8) Leaving behind a key to a locked drawer

This makes it easy for someone to come back later — perhaps after hours when no one is around — and access confidential files, personal belongings and other contents that were locked up in the drawer. You wouldn't leave your car key out on the hood of your car, and this is the same concept.

9) Displaying calendars in the open or on the screen for all to see

Calendars often contain sensitive dates and/or information about employees, customers, prospects and new products. Leaving them in the open for all to see, or on a computer screen when you walk away from your desk, could be a major security risk. Just think of how easily someone could snap a photo and capture your proprietary info to share with or sell to competitors...yikes!

10) Leaving wallets and credit cards out on the desk

A lost or stolen wallet can have a considerable impact on nearly anyone — if nothing else, it’s a huge inconvenience! Replacing all the contents of a lost wallet is a painful task I would not wish on anyone...even those who might deserve to spend a little time waiting to get a new driver's license at the DMV/MVA! Wallets may also possess corporate credit cards, security badges and other items that open a business — and even potentially its client accounts — to vulnerabilities.

In today’s fast-paced world where employees are always on the go, it takes too much time to determine whether documents, USB drives, devices and other items contain sensitive information. The safe bet is to make sure everything is filed away and kept locked up or else properly destroyed. Always remember to secure and lock down your phones, USB drives, computers and anything else. Like the old adage goes, it really is better to be safe than sorry!

Finally, now that I've told you about all the things you may be doing wrong when it comes to your workspace, you may be curious about how your desk should be organized. So, check out this handy little infographic published by CNN Money (below) with tips to help prep you and your desk for productivity and success from organizational experts.

Tips for organizing your workspace

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