Insider Dangers Are Hiding in Collaboration Tools

The casual sharing of sensitive data, such as passwords, is opening the door to malicious insiders.

Digital collaboration technologies are accelerating productivity in the post-phone-call workplace, but tools like Yammer, Workplace by Facebook, and Slack have their dark side. While these channels can help speed group decision-making, they also serve as an enterprise blind spot for insider threats to do their worst – not to mention being open conduits for spreading negativity and toxic behaviors among the ranks. 

A new report out today from Wiretap measured the prevalence of insider risks from collaborative communication tools, both in public and private conversations. It found the platforms are rife with uncontrolled sharing of sensitive information and password sharing.  

In a study of over 1 million employee messages, the "Human Behavior Risk Analysis" report found that confidential information is shared in one out of every 118 public communications. Meantime, passwords are shared in one out of every 262 communications. Private communication channels are worse. Private conversation messages are 165% more likely to contain identification numbers and 76% more likely to contain passwords. 

Additionally, though they are relatively rare, negative and toxic communication between employees on these platforms also open up organizations to a number of risks. The study shows that one out of every 380 public messages receives a negative sentiment score, and private groups and one-on-one conversations were 1.5 times more likely to contain negative messages. Meantime, toxic communications containing sexual language, bullying, racial slurs, and other potential harassing modes of communication account for one out of every 170 messages. This not only opens up the organization to legal risks and drains on team morale, but also could be red flags for future malicious actors. 

"Sentiment and toxic behavior are closely associated with insider threats," explains Jason Morgan, who led the research on the report and is vice president of behavioral intelligence for Wiretap. "Dissatisfied or disgruntled employees are much more likely to act in ways contrary to an organization's interests. As a gauge of individual, group, or company mood, low sentiment scores can act as a leading indicator of possible future insider malfeasance. Happy people are more likely to act in the interests of the organization; unhappy people are more likely to cause problems."

Inappropriate communication and unauthorized sharing of sensitive data is hardly new, but the fact that these insider risks are transitioning to collaboration tools should raise the eyebrows of enterprises that have worked hard to mitigate insider risks in recent years. At this point, 78% of organizations report some sort of active monitoring of phone, email, or Internet use. However, collaboration tools can often be a blind spot in the enterprise monitoring technology stack.  

The casual nature of communication on these channels promotes a greater level of sloppiness from a cybersecurity perspective, too.  

"This creates a scenario where inadvertent actors may accidentally and negligently share sensitive data because they put something in writing they wouldn't ordinarily email to a colleague," the Wiretap report explains. "Unfortunately, this also creates more space for malicious insiders to pray on those inadvertent actors."

These concerns will only grow in the coming years as collaboration tools continue to gain traction in the enterprise. According to a recent report, 57% of organizations plan on increasing their spending on collaborative tools in 2018.

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About the Author(s)

Ericka Chickowski, Contributing Writer

Ericka Chickowski specializes in coverage of information technology and business innovation. She has focused on information security for the better part of a decade and regularly writes about the security industry as a contributor to Dark Reading.

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