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November 15, 2023

Are There Good Open Source Tools for Sensitive Data Discovery?

Open-source tools have come into their own in the past decade, including tools for sensitive data discovery. What used to be the domain of large corporations has been democratized, and teams of passionate people can (and do) develop amazing tools. However, with the ever-growing number of data privacy and security laws, the stakes around data classification have never been higher. Getting sensitive data discovery right has significant consequences…so it’s critical you understand what you’re getting with these tools, and how you can use them in ways that will keep you (and your customer and employee data) safe.

What Makes Data Discovery Tools Open-Source?

We’ve already covered what makes software open source in this article in depth , but we want to give a quick recap of what we’ll be discussing here. Unlike closed-source tools, free sensitive data discovery tools are released under a license allowing others to use and alter the software for their purposes freely. Generally, instead of being created and owned by a corporation, open-source software is developed by a passionate community, who collaborate to create new features and often determine future direction democratically.

Many talented people are working on great open-source sensitive data discovery tools like OpenDataDiscovery, ReDiscovery, DataDefender, and more. Consequently, to answer the question in the title of the article, there are good open-source tools for sensitive data discovery. However, that’s not necessarily the question you should be asking—instead, you should be trying to determine if they’ll be right for your company. And one of the best ways to make that determination is through a SWOT Analysis, taking a detailed look at the Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats that come from using open-source tools for data discovery.

Data Discovery Tools: Strengths

First up are the strengths—the things that open-source data discovery tools do well.

Interoperability and Flexibility

Because there are generally a variety of perspectives involved in open-source tools, there’s often little incentive to hide features and programs behind walled gardens. In this case, that often translates into tools with a wide range of integrations and connections for data. And even when a certain database type isn’t supported, these tools often provide a way for you to build the integration yourself, ensuring that getting data is rarely a roadblock.


And, of course, the best price you can get for anything is free. That could mean you save a bit of money or free up resources to invest in areas that need it more. Whatever the case, it will be hard to get a better deal than what you get with open-source tools.

Data Discovery Tools: Weaknesses

Of course, no software is perfect. Here are some things open-source data discovery tools don’t always do well.

Unknown Development Cycles

Many B2B tools feature a regular and predictable development cycle. Some open-source projects are very organized, and others are less so. Regardless, there’s no guarantee that a feature or fix will come out on time—or even that there will be a roadmap to start with. The inherent unpredictability of the process can sometimes be frustrating.

Enterprise Readiness

As companies grow, their data environments become more complex at an exponential rate. Not all open-source data discovery tools can handle the complexity of a modern enterprise data environment. And of those that can, not all will be able to provide the detailed reporting and compliance options that companies need to meet their legal obligations.

Data Discovery Tools: Opportunities

With open-source tools, companies have some opportunities they wouldn’t necessarily have with paid tools.

Opportunity to Influence Development

As a user of an open-source tool, you’re part of the community developing it. While you still won’t have ultimate control over its development direction, you’ll likely have the ability to vote on next steps and generally have greater influence on the development process than you would over most paid tools. This can provide the opportunity to get the features you need faster than traditional development.

Customization via Forking

And if the community doesn’t prioritize your needs, you’re allowed to fork, or make a copy of, the underlying source code, allowing your company to continue development in the way it sees fit. That’s an option you’re typically never going to have with traditional software.

Data Discovery Tools: Threats

Of course, there are some downsides to open-source tools.

Poor/Nonexistent Customer Support

Because open-source tools are generally community-run projects where people work for free, customer support is not guaranteed. People, including other users, are often very helpful through online forums, but that often doesn’t rise to the same level of support you would get from just about any paid tool. And when you have a serious issue with your software, this problem can keep you from resolving it quickly. And as a reminder, 99 percent success in data discovery isn’t good enough, and could open you up to serious legal ramifications. If you’re having an issue with sensitive data discovery, failing to find a quick solution can be an expensive mistake.

Rogue Developers

While it’s unlikely that the developers of an open-source data discovery tool would insert malware or create serious security vulnerabilities, it’s not unheard of. But even if no one acts maliciously, there’s a real chance that the project will eventually be abandoned without warning. And abandoned software won’t receive security updates or new features and could leave you looking for a new solution once more.

How Mage Helps with Sensitive Data Discovery

If you’ve reached the end of the above SWOT analysis feeling that the strengths and opportunities far outweigh the weaknesses and risks, then there’s a good chance that there’s a great open-source sensitive data discovery tool out there for you. But that won’t be the case for all businesses. It doesn’t mean that the tools are bad, just that they are not a good fit for all business contexts.

Remember that sensitive data discovery is the starting point of good data management. There are so many more things that need to be done to keep data safe and companies compliant. Here at Mage, we’ve developed a world-class AI-powered sensitive data discovery tool, that’s part of a larger suite of tools designed to manage data from discovery all the way to retirement. If that sounds more like what you need, sign up for a free consultation today to learn more about what Mage can do for you.