Vulnerabilities / Threats

11/29/2016
01:45 PM
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Retailers Limit Data Access For Temporary, Seasonal Workers

Employers are scaling back on sensitive data access for temporary and contract employees, and increasing visibility into their online activity.

Retailers no longer feel extra pressure to ramp up security during the holiday shopping season when sales climb and more employees are hired. That's because security is no longer a seasonal priority for them:  best practices apply year-round, according to a new report.

These findings come from the 2016 Pre-Holiday Retail Cyber Risk Report, commissioned by Bay Dynamics and conducted by Osterman Research. Experts collected data on how permanent, temporary, and contract employees are given access to information, and how they use it. They also addressed businesses' visibility into workers' actions and speed of vulnerability patching.

Researchers polled 134 IT and security professionals involved in managing their organizations' IT and security systems. Respondents were required to work for a retail business with at least 2,000 employees.

They found security fears have grown since 2015, when 66% of respondents said they felt more pressure to be secure during the holidays. In 2016, 56% of IT and security pros said the holiday season doesn't contribute to security anxiety; rather, they feel greater pressure all year long.

As a result, businesses are paying closer attention to how temporary and contract employees handle information. Most (64%) respondents say they don't give temporary employees their own accounts, which restricts their access to sensitive data.

Ryan Stolte, co-founder and CTO of Bay Dynamics, explains how in the past retailers championed customer experience over security. All employees were granted data access so they could easily help customers; however, there was no way to tell who was handling sensitive data or what they were doing with it. 

"If everyone has access, it's easier to get information to the customer," he says. "Obviously, this is not very secure. Even with modern tools, I can tell you that a shared account accessed sensitive information, but not who actually did it. We'd have to implicate the entire store."

As security becomes a greater concern, retailers are upgrading their point-of-sale systems and adopting a new approach to employee management so they can only access sensitive data as needed.

Most retailers are going in one of two directions, he says. Some don't grant their temp employees access to any information. Depending on the nature of seasonal workers' roles, there is no need for them to access corporate data or email.

Others treat temp workers like long-term contractors or permanent employees. They are onboarded in the same way, given unique accounts, and have their data access monitored.

"There are a couple of implications," says Stolte of the latter approach. "We've seen people say, 'That's going to increase my cost or inhibit my customer experience.' And it does increase cost for retailers to put [employees] through a full onboarding system."

Employers who do grant temp workers access to sensitive data are careful about monitoring their online behavior. Only 12% claim they have little to no visibility into the network activity of these employees.

Upgraded systems enable employers to keep track of which data employees access. They can log what happens, send it to a central system, and conduct analysis to determine if anything appears suspicious.

Stolte recommends some best practices to businesses granting data access to seasonal workers.

"Make sure you're only giving them just as much as they need to do their job," he says. There is almost no circumstance under which a temp worker needs a large amount of records; these employees handle one customer at a time. 

Retailers must log all employees' network activity, he continues. They should be able to identify which data was accessed so they can spot unusual patterns if something goes wrong, pin the activity to an individual, and act on it quickly.

The study found there has been a decrease in the number of IT and security pros who are unsure whether permanent employees have accessed or sent data they shouldn't have touched. This demonstrates a greater understanding of what's going on in their IT environment.

Overall, Stolte notes the industry is headed in a positive direction. This year's survey results indicate many retailers implemented programs for stronger security in 2014 and 2015, but didn't complete and launch these initiatives until this year. He believes this trajectory will continue through 2017.

Related Content:

Kelly Sheridan is Associate Editor at Dark Reading. She started her career in business tech journalism at Insurance & Technology and most recently reported for InformationWeek, where she covered Microsoft and business IT. Sheridan earned her BA at Villanova University. View Full Bio

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