Platforms like Google Drive make storage, data sharing, and collaboration intuitive and convenient. Spurred on by the Covid-19 pandemic and the rising need for remote work, Google Workspace saw rapid growth to an astonishing 3 billion users in 2021.

But no platform is ever 100% secure.

Cyberattacks were up 38% in 2022,  and we’ve seen real instances of leaks due to careless handling of Google Drive links before.

That’s why it’s critical to understand why Google Drive data leaks happen, ways to prevent them, and how you can deal with their aftermath.

And that’s exactly what we’ll talk about below. 

Let’s dive in!

5 reasons Google Drive data leaks can happen

Let’s be clear right off the bat: Google Drive is an extremely safe environment, living up to the highest security standards.

The company uses an exceptionally strong 256-bit Advanced Encryption Standard (AES) for all of its Drive servers. Google also takes a whole range of measures to secure in-transit data.

But nothing in life is perfect.

Google Drive data leaks can happen for any number of reasons, including:

1. Human error

Sadly, it’s often us humans who are the biggest risk factor. Employees might e.g. accidentally share a file with the wrong person or place sensitive info in a public folder.

Files shared as public links are available to everyone (including unauthorized parties) and can even be picked up by search engines.

Additionally, having “Editor” access as the default sharing permission could mean others—including third parties—can easily redistribute, download or print your files without your knowledge or consent.

Unfortunately, mistakes happen and employees do share public links (as in the NHS example) and grant outsiders too many (unnecessary) sharing rights. When possible, files should be shared by following the principle of least privilege.

2. Malicious intent

External actors can intentionally gain access to valuable data by exploiting vulnerabilities or using social engineering to trick employees into sharing unauthorized files with them (e.g. by pretending to be an external auditor requesting access to a specific shared file).

In addition to this, study found that 72% of employees admit to taking valuable company data before leaving a job; sometimes even for financial gain or ill-intentioned purposes.

3. Technical vulnerabilities

Infected malware or overlooked bugs can create an opening for external actors to exploit. For example, if they get access to an employee's computer they could expose sensitive company information. Google is an attractive target for such attempts.

Employees might also install third-party apps (typically free of charge that require access to Google Drive), making it easier for external actors to get access to My Drive and Shared Drive files. 

Such practice—often referred to as "Shadow IT" —is incredibly hard to spot and often goes undetected for years.

4. Improper security measures

Your Google Drive is only as secure as your safety protocols. Companies that don’t enforce strong passwords or forget to regularly update security settings can be especially vulnerable to data leaks.

Then there’s the issue of forgotten “old” files shared by former employees. These can still be accessible and are essentially “leaked” as nobody has unshared them or knows of their existence.

Imagine if those files contain employee credentials, proprietary business data, or anything other sensitive info that outsiders can use to bypass your security efforts.

5. Company-wide changes

Some leaks could happen due to organizational changes like technical restructuring, mergers and acquisitions, and partnerships. Such cases often require you to re-assess all shared files, otherwise the wrong people might get access to critical information..

Whatever the reason your Google Drive data gets leaked, the outcomes are rarely pretty.

What are the effects of such data leaks?

While not every leaked document carries a “top secret” seal, the outcome of almost any Google Drive leak can have serious consequences.

We’re talking about:

  • Leaking sensitive or confidential data like customer or employee details
  • Losing competitive advantage after trade secrets or trademarks leak
  • Financial impact of the above as well as costs associated with damage control and recovery (stock price effects, loss of competitive advantage, etc.)
  • Damaging your relationships with customers, partners, or other stakeholders whose data has been exposed or compromised
  • General damage to company reputation and decreased trust among the public
  • Legal consequences like fines and lawsuits due to breach of GDPR or other regulations

It’s clear that Google Drive data leaks are something to avoid.

But…how exactly?

How do you prevent Drive data leaks?

Here’s a painful truth: The human factor is responsible for as many as 82% of all data breaches!

So preventing data leaks in Google Drive often comes down to cultivating a healthy attitude towards data protection within your company. Employees should be trained to share files responsibly, set up secure passwords, exercise caution when dealing with third-party cloud tools, and remember to clean up external file permissions after relevant projects are completed.

Beyond that, there’s a Google Workspace tool that IT admins can use to protect sensitive data from leaking: Data Loss Prevention (DLP).

In short, DLP lets you set up rules for sharing and handling sensitive data.

We have put together a highly actionable DLP eBook. It’s jam-packed with insights about how DLP works and how to configure DLP to get the best possible protection in your organization.

[Grab your FREE DLP eBook]

What to do in case of a leak?

Now what if—despite your best efforts—you’ve still experienced a Google Drive data leak?

We recommend following FTC’s guidelines for data breach response and taking these steps:

1. Identify the scope

First order of business is to quickly establish the extent of the leak. Which Drive files, folders, and users are affected? Is this a one-off case or a systemwide vulnerability?

Having this overview lets you better understand and address the issue.

2. Secure the leak

Once you know exactly what’s been compromised, immediately shut off all unauthorized access to prevent further exposure!

Note that DLP protocols are great at preventing leaks but can’t help you in case one has already happened. That’s where third-party tools like Tricent play a vital role. Tricent lets you instantly shut off all access—to any file or folder, by any user or even an entire domain—with a single click.

Acting quickly to prevent further damage is crucial, so make this a priority!

3. Fix the underlying issue

Next step is to identify the source of the leak: Was it file-sharing mistake, malicious behavior by internal or external actors, failure to follow proper security procedures, etc.?

This will dictate what future prevention measures you’ll put in place, as well as what you’ll communicate to external parties. Speaking of which…

4. Notify stakeholders

Chances are high that your leak affects others. From exposed personal data to confidential information about your business partners, this leak may involve multiple external and internal stakeholders.

Be transparent and let everyone know about the leak and your planned course of action. Not only is this best practice but it can also be a legal requirement (e.g. GDPR).

5. Review your internal procedures

Now that the "firefighting" mode is over, it's time to review your organization's policies and security measures. For example: How can you prevent file-sharing mistakes, how do you train employees to share files responsibly, and how fast can you respond to any data leaks?

Answering these questions will help you minimize the risk of future leaks and make you better at handling them going forward.

Google Drive + Tricent = 100% control

Want to detect, respond, and enforce policies to mitigate potential data leaks in Google Drive?  

Tricent gives you complete control of your shared files, as it helps you:

  • Understand your file-sharing footprint 
  • Respond to any file-sharing risks in seconds (e.g. data leaks) 
  • Enforce end-user-driven security policies 

As a Google partner, our tool meets their highest security standards. 

Get your free trial at