Two Scary (Anecdotal) Data Points: MRFs with White Paper/The Run on Ink Cartridges

August 26, 2020

There’s been a lot made of the fact that a considerable portion of the workforce is working from home. The conversation in the industry has focused largely on two areas: What is means now, and what it means for the future.

I’m already on record about my feeling that the vast majority of remote workers will return to their offices eventually. For those interested, that blog is available here.

As for what remote working means now, most of the discussion is about the security risks and how to best capitalize on the opportunity to serve clients when their employees remain home.

Of course, one of the main issues when considering these opportunities is knowing whether there is a problem to be solved. In that regard, over the past week I have come across two alarming indications that there is, in fact, a very big problem. And, while I want to be clear, this is anything but scientific, what I learned holds enough water that I wanted to share it.

MRFs with White Paper: The contents of curbside recycling bins end up at what is called a Municipal Recycling Facility (pronounced “merf” in the recycling world).

In the months since the lockdown began a funny thing has started to happen. While MRFs commonly end up with cardboard, newsprint and magazines, over the past few months, according to credible industry sources, these MRFs have seen a dramatic uptick in the amount of office paper they receive. The uptick is so dramatic that some are now baling white grades of paper. For anyone in data security who can add two and two, this is pretty scary.

Also, and more personally, I recently went to a large retailer to buy ink cartridges. I’ve done it before and knew they had a massive supply. The display is ten foot across and brimming with hundreds if not thousands of cartridges of every make and model. When I found it was totally empty, I was in disbelief. I immediately found an employee to ask if there was any in the back, or if I should go to another store. He said “don’t bother, with everyone working from home everyone is out of stock.”

Like many (probably), I assumed remote workers would rely solely on digital documents. The anecdotal evidence above seems to suggest a lot of those digital documents are being printed. I’ll leave it you to read into this what you will, but these two observations would seem to indicate there is, indeed, a data protection issue in the remote office environment that needs to be addressed.