July 12, 2023

5 data protection risks and how to mitigate them

Everyday across Ireland, businesses store large amounts of confidential information on  paper documents and hard drives. However, in today’s hybrid world, transporting sensitive information for use outside the work environment can also pose significant data protection risks. The loss, theft or compromise of confidential physical and digital materials can have devastating consequences for businesses of all sizes – these can range from legal to financial and reputational.

With studies showing around 83% of organisations have had more than one data breach1, it has never been more important for companies to do everything they can to protect themselves. In this blog post, we will explore the various data protection risks faced by businesses and discuss effective measures to mitigate these risks.

What are the risks around data protection?

Before putting together a plan of action to mitigate and eliminate risk, it’s essential to know what the various risks are:

●      Data breaches

A data breach occurs when unauthorised individuals gain access to sensitive data, such as customer information, financial data, or intellectual property. This can happen through a variety of means, such as hacking, theft or simply carelessness – in fact data shows that 21% of breaches in 2022 were caused by human error of employees or contractors2.

Data breaches can have a devastating impact on businesses, leading to financial losses, reputational damage and legal liability. Last year, the UK average total cost of a data breach to an organisation was USD 5.05 million3.

●      Identity theft

Identity theft occurs when someone steals someone else's personal information. Identity thieves can use this information to open new accounts, make purchases or commit other crimes. It can also cause huge legal, financial and reputational damage to businesses, who have an obligation to protect their customers’ personal data and prevent theft incidents.

●      Legal/compliance consequences

Failure of businesses to protect data can lead to legal consequences, including fines, lawsuits and criminal prosecution. Compliance with data protection regulations, such as General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), is crucial to avoiding such consequences. GDPR applies to all companies that handle the personal data of EU residents, including those established in the UK that offer goods or services to EU residents or monitor their behaviour. Across the world, regulations to safeguard client, employee and confidential business information are becoming increasingly stringent.

●      Financial loss

Businesses suffering from data breaches or identity theft incidents as a result of failing to protect confidential information often face significant financial losses. Costs may include investigating the incident, repairing the damage and compensating affected individuals or entities.

●      Reputational damage

Often forgotten about because it’s not as immediately quantifiable as some of the other risks, is the damage to a business’s reputation which can be caused by a data breach or identity theft incident. And the knock on effects this can lead to – such as loss of customers, decreased sales and difficulty attracting new business.

How to mitigate data protection risks

There are a number of steps that businesses can take to mitigate data protection risks. When it comes to confidential paper files and hard drives, managing their storage and disposal is critical. Many businesses don’t realise that as documents and files start to add up, so does the risk of a data breach. Leaving sensitive documents or digital storage devices out in the open in a workplace or home office environment could make it more difficult to protect data as stringent as you need to in order to prevent a data breach. Here are some of the things you can do:

●      Secure document shredding

When businesses no longer need confidential papers, they should be securely shredded. This ensures that unauthorised individuals cannot access the information on the papers. Partnering with a reputable document destruction service can guarantee secure and compliant shredding practices. Many businesses may also not know that there is an environmental benefit to partnering with such a service provider. For example, Shred-it will not only securely destroy your confidential papers – our six-stage process also enables the materials to be recycled and enter the circular economy. This is without compromising security or running any data protection risks.

●      Hard drive destruction

When businesses no longer need hard drives that contain confidential data, simply erasing, wiping or even reformatting them is not enough. They should be destroyed by a partner such as Shred-it. This will ensure that the data on the hard drives can never be recovered or reused by any criminal or other organisation. Similarly to paper shredding, Shred-it is able to recycle the securely destroyed parts from old hard drives and make sure they are reused as everyday items.

●      Educating employees about data protection

Employees must be well-informed about data protection risks and best practices. Regular training sessions should be conducted to raise awareness about the importance of safeguarding sensitive data. Employees should be educated on secure data handling and storage of confidential papers and hard drives. Staff who work as hybrid workers or fully remotely should also be aware of the risks regarding data protection, your company’s policies and the correct practices. They should also be aware of a clean desk policy your company might have in place, this means that staff will have clear guidance on how to securely store confidential files they’ve been working with throughout the day, while they are not at their desks.

●      Carrying out a data security survey

By undertaking a data security survey, businesses can gain valuable insights into the level of document security risk they face. This assessment evaluates various aspects of data handling, storage and disposal practices to determine potential vulnerabilities. It helps identify areas where confidential papers or hard drives are at a higher risk of being lost, stolen, or compromised. The survey provides a practical framework for evaluating existing document security protocols and practices. It examines factors such as access controls, employee training, data backup procedures and the secure storage of unwanted documents prior to their destruction. By assessing these areas, businesses can identify any gaps or weaknesses in their data protection measures and develop strategies to address them.


By being aware of data protection risks and taking steps to mitigate them, businesses and all of their employees can help to protect confidential papers and hard drives from unauthorised access. This will help to protect their data, their reputation and their bottom line.

In a hybrid-working, increasingly digital world, data protection risks are not only growing in number but also in consequence. Safeguarding confidential papers and hard drives from unauthorised access is critical to protecting your businesses from these risks. By understanding what’s at stake and implementing appropriate measures, businesses can mitigate the potential consequences of data breaches and identity theft incidents. Secure document shredding, hard drive destruction and employee education are all crucial components of a comprehensive data protection strategy – but they are by no means a definitive list of mitigations. By prioritising data security, businesses can increase their compliance, safeguard their reputation, minimise financial losses and uphold the trust of their customers and stakeholders.

At Shred-it, we have expert resources to help you and your staff understand what the risks of data protection are and how to mitigate them – you can find them here in our resource centre.

Alternatively, visit our website to find out more about our paper shredding, hard drive destruction and recycling services. Or talk to us today about how we can help your business get data protection right.


IBM Security – Cost of a Data Breach Report 2022


IBM Security – Cost of a Data Breach Report 2022


IBM Security – Cost of a Data Breach Report 2022