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Unmanaged Leavers Data in Google Workspace: Understanding the Threat

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Google Workspace provides businesses with a robust suite of tools for collaboration and communication. However, a hidden security risk can lurk within your Workspace environment: Unmanaged Leavers Data

When employees leave your organisation, their data – emails, documents, files – can pose a significant security threat if left unchecked. While archiving inactive users with Archived User licences may seem like a secure solution, without implementing proper management practices you may still be exposing your organisation to significant risks.

Let’s explore why unmanaged archived user data poses a threat and how effective archiving strategies can mitigate these risks.

The Dangers of Unmanaged Leaver Data

Leavers’ data encompasses all information associated with former employees, not just archived user accounts. Leaving this data unmanaged can lead to several security concerns:

  • ▪️ Data Breaches: Inactive accounts are prime targets for hackers. Weak passwords or compromised login credentials can provide a backdoor into your system. Once compromised, these accounts become gateways for attackers to steal sensitive information, or launch further attacks.
  • ▪️ Data Exfiltration: Malicious leavers might attempt to steal sensitive data before their accounts are disabled such as downloading, creating copies, sharing files with their personal account or even configuring an auto-forward from their company Gmail. Without strong data governance controls or monitoring solutions, it’s difficult to prevent or detect these types of malicious activities that put your company’s data at risk.  
  • ▪️ Non-Compliance with Regulations: Data privacy regulations like GDPR and HIPAA mandate strict guidelines on managing user data. Failure to properly archive and delete leaver data can result in hefty fines and reputational damage.
  • ▪️ Data Loss: When accounts are not properly managed after an employee leaves, there is a risk of important data being lost. If data is not archived or transferred correctly, valuable information might be permanently deleted or inaccessible.
  • ▪️ Insider Threats: Even after leaving, former employees may exploit their retained access to harm the organisation. This can be intentional, such as sabotage, or unintentional if they still have access to shared resources.

Solutions to Mitigate Leaver Data Risks

1. Archived User Licenses:

When an employee leaves your organisation, you can choose to archive their user account instead of deleting it entirely. This creates an “archived user” with a special license. 

Archived user accounts offer several benefits:

  • ▪️ Retain Access to Valuable Data: Archived user accounts allow you to access a former employee’s emails, documents, and other data for a specific period. This can help retrieve historical information or complete ongoing projects.
  • ▪️ Improved Compliance Management: Archiving user accounts can simplify compliance with data retention regulations. After the mandated retention period, you can control the data and ensure it’s purged.

Pros and Cons of Archived Users

Pros:

  • ▪️ Retain access to valuable data for a specific period.
  • ▪️ Simplify compliance with data retention regulations.

⚠️ Cons:

  • ▪️ Cost: Archived user licenses come with a high cost of ownership, with recurring costs per user/year.
  • ▪️ Security Concerns: If not managed properly, archived user accounts can still pose a risk with unauthorised sharing permissions leading to data breaches.


2. GAT Flow: Efficiently Manage Leavers Data 

An alternative to solely relying on archived user licenses is using GAT Flow. GAT Flow helps manage user lifecycle processes, including the offboarding of employees. 

Here’s how GAT Flow can assist:

  • ▪️ Data Transfer and Ownership Changes: With GAT Flow, you can seamlessly transfer data ownership and ensure that no critical information is lost or left unmonitored.
  • ▪️ Custom Retention Policies: GAT Flow enables you to set custom data retention policies, ensuring compliance with regulations and reducing the risk of unmanaged data.

Pros and Cons of Using GAT Flow

Pros:

  • ▪️ Enhanced Security: Automating offboarding workflows reduces the risk of human error and ensures all steps are completed.
  • ▪️ Cost-Effective: By reducing reliance on archived user licenses, GAT Flow can be a more cost-effective solution.
  • ▪️ Comprehensive Management: From data transfers to compliance, GAT Flow covers all aspects of user offboarding and drastically reduces the amount of time and effort required to manage the leavers process.

⚠️ Cons:

  • ▪️ Implementation: Initial setup and configuration of workflows may require time and resources.

3. GAT+: Identify malicious activity 

GAT+ is another powerful tool that can help mitigate the risks associated with unmanaged leavers data. It provides advanced monitoring and auditing capabilities to identify and address potential security threats. 

Here’s how GAT+ can assist:

  • ▪️ Enhanced Observability: GAT+ offers detailed insights into user activity, helping you detect any unusual or suspicious behaviour, including activities related to former employees or malicious leavers.
  • ▪️ Centralised Management: With GAT+, you can monitor and manage all your Google Workspace data from a single interface, making it easier to oversee and control leaver data.
  • ▪️Easily Identify External Users: GAT+ helps you quickly identify and manage external users who may still have access to your data, ensuring that only authorised personnel retain access.
Pros and Cons of Using GAT+

Pros:

  • ▪️ Enhanced Observability: Provides detailed monitoring of user activity to detect and address potential threats.
  • ▪️Centralised Management: Simplifies data management by consolidating all controls into one interface.
  • ▪️ Easily Identify External Users: This helps ensure that only authorised personnel have access to your data.

⚠️ Cons:

  • ▪️Implementation: Initial setup and integration into your existing systems may require some effort.

Conclusion

Unmanaged leavers’ data poses significant security risks to your organisation. While archived user licenses offer a way to retain access to important data, they come with additional costs and potential security concerns if not managed properly.

GAT Flow provides an efficient and cost-effective solution to handle leaver data, ensuring compliance and enhancing security through automated workflows and comprehensive management. Additionally, GAT+ offers advanced monitoring and auditing capabilities, helping you detect and mitigate potential security threats related to unmanaged leaver data.

By implementing effective strategies and leveraging tools like GAT Flow and GAT+, you can mitigate the risks associated with unmanaged leaver’s data and safeguard your Google Workspace environment.

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