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Senior Managers Twice as Likely to Share Work Devices With Outsiders

New survey finds top C-suite managers are much shakier on security than their junior counterparts.

New research has found that senior management tends to exhibit much more lax security practices with their devices than younger staff.

In fact, senior managers (42%) were twice as likely to share a work device with someone outside the organization than their junior counterparts (20%), according to OneLogin. 

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In addition, 19% of senior managers admitted to sharing confidential passwords with a family member versus only 7% of junior employees. Senior management also reported working from public Wi-Fi networks at double the rate of their junior counterparts (30% vs. 15%).  

The survey, says OneLogin CEO Brad Brooks, was based on responses from 2,000 US and UK remote workers from the ages of 16 to 55-plus.

"Much of this is a product of your formative years," Brooks says. "Older managers did not grow up with PCs, an iPad, and smartphones. I just think overall the younger generation are more aware of the security risks." 

The survey's findings also suggest American workers are less security-focused than their UK counterparts, he says. Remote workers in the US shared devices 7% more than their UK counterparts, worked on public Wi-Fi at a 9% higher rate, and downloaded personal applications at an 8% higher rate.

"With the GDPR regulations, the Europeans are much more sophisticated when it comes to security and privacy," Brooks says. "Plus, because many of the brands they use in Europe are American and they don't have any nationalistic sentiment toward the brands, they are a bit more aware of the risks and skeptical. "

OneLogin's survey also syncs with a survey MobileIron (recently acquired by Ivanti) did earlier this year in which 76% of the C-suite admit to bypassing company security protocols, often because they are complicated or misunderstood.

Many factors contributed to C-suite reticence to adhering to security protocols, says Russ Mohr, engineering director at Ivanti. Many appeared to be driven by the expediency required for executives to perform at a top level. For example, 47% percent of the C-suite reported asking IT to let unsupported or unmanaged devices access corporate data. However, data on an unmanaged device wouldn't be protected should the device go missing, he says.

Some other stats from that MobileIron survey: Some 45% had asked to bypass multifactor authentication (MFA), 37% wanted to access business data from unauthorized apps that cannot be vetted by IT, and 34% reported reusing passwords

"Understanding the sanctity of their corporate passwords and devices, and the potential dangers of working on an unsecure Wi-Fi network, should be top priorities for all remote workers," Mohr says. "It's alarming that the same executives that are often the targets of corporate espionage and aspiring hackers are usually the first to bypass the very protocols designed to protect them."

Jay Bretzmann, research director of cybersecurity products at IDC, says it stands to reason that senior executives would stand out.  

"Changing a password is somewhat to very annoying depending upon what sort of requirements [length, upper/lower case, special characters] exist," Bretzmann says. "What organizations ought to be doing is deploying password managers that can help their employees stay in-policy with respect to creations and rotations."

OneLogin's Brooks also offers some tips for security pros to better lock down top managers:

  • Discourage use of public Wi-Fi: Impress on top managers the inherent risks in using public Wi-Fi. If they have to use Wi-Fi at an airport or public place, make sure they log on via a VPN.
  • Issue managers corporate devices: Top managers are the high-wealth individuals hackers are after. They sign off on million-dollar purchase orders, approve raises, and have greater personal wealth than most of the staff, so they are prime targets for hackers. In these work-from-home times, security pros should give top managers and those who handle sensitive financial or medical information top priority for VPN access and have them work on corporate-issued devices.
  • Encourage MFA: Brooks says OneLogin surveys have found that people shut down if they can't sign in within 30 OneLogin. Impress on workers that by using MFA they will lower the potential for a breach to less than 3%.

Steve Zurier has more than 30 years of journalism and publishing experience and has covered networking, security, and IT as a writer and editor since 1992. Steve is based in Columbia, Md.
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