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Shopify's Employee Data Theft Underscores Risk of Rogue Insiders

The e-commerce platform has alerted more than 100 merchants of a data breach, highlighting the danger of malicious insiders.

Shopify has confirmed a security incident in which two support team employees were involved in a scheme to steal customer transaction records from specific merchants. The activity affected fewer than 200 merchants, the e-commerce platform reports.

Merchants whose stores were illegitimately accessed may have had customer data exposed, according to a company blog post. This information includes basic contact data, such as name, email and physical addresses, and order details such as products and services purchased. The customers' payment card data and other financial records were not targeted in the theft.

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While Shopify did not report when the theft took place, an email sent to the customers of cosmetics seller 100% Pure indicates transaction records were accessed on Sept. 15, according to a report from Bloomberg.

Upon learning of the employees' involvement in the scheme, Shopify terminated their access to its network and referred the incident to law enforcement. It says there is no indication the stolen data has been used; however, it's working with the FBI and international agencies in an ongoing investigation and will update affected merchants as needed, Shopify says in an update.

The company notes the incident did not stem from a technical vulnerability in its platform, and the majority of sellers are not affected.

This incident underscores the risk of insider threats, a common and dangerous problem among organizations. Not all insider threats are intentional — many employees who put company data at risk don't know they're doing so — but they are becoming more frequent as employees rely on unsanctioned cloud applications and access corporate data from a wide variety of networks.

"Shopify is in good company," says Code42 CEO Joe Payne. "This problem is occurring in most companies in the world today." He points to three main shifts exacerbating the issue; chief of which is increased reliance on collaboration tools such as Slack, Teams, OneDrive, and Dropbox. 

Code42 data shows the most popular tools for file sharing and collaboration are email (34%), Microsoft SharePoint (26%), OneDrive (23%), and Google Drive (19%). The most commonly used unauthorized platforms for sharing files with colleagues include WhatsApp (34%), Google Drive (30%), Facebook (29%), and personal email (29%). Nearly 40% of employees use unauthorized apps daily — and 26% use them weekly — to share files with their colleagues.

Another factor is the expansion of remote workforces. COVID-19 has forced many employees into home offices; as Payne notes, they're also working from coffee shops, restaurants, and outdoor spaces. Network defenses fail to protect sensitive data outside the corporate network.

Compounding the issue is the trend of employees, especially younger ones, staying with an organization for less time. Workers who don't plan to stay with a company for a long time aren't as loyal and may not think twice about bringing data to a future role somewhere else. Code42 found 63% of employees who admit they took data to a new job are repeat offenders — "and that's just the people who admitted it," Payne points out.

Often, the people who take sensitive data don't believe they're in the wrong. Few insider threats are truly nefarious, he notes. Some believe they have ownership of their work, even if it belongs to their employer, and exfiltrate information with the goal of bringing it elsewhere. 

While a full picture of employee activity is needed to determine if someone is a malicious insider, Payne says there are a few red flags that can tip off security teams to suspicious activity. One common tactic is changing file extensions to make a file appear as an image or song, in an effort to bypass detection and sneak corporate documents to a personal account. Exfiltrating files in different formats, or especially large quantities, could indicate an insider threat, he explains.

People working off hours has historically indicated insider activity and continues to do so today.

"It is still true today, even though people are working from home, when they decide to start moving data around, they do it in off hours," Payne says. They think it'll make them less suspicious, he adds, but it's still a red flag. 

The No. 1 risk indicator? When someone hands in their notice. A person who quits has typically already taken the data they want a week prior, he adds. And once they leave, most of their former employers don't reach out: Code42's data shows 87% of employees say companies failed to verify if they had taken data when they left the organization.

Kelly Sheridan is the Staff Editor at Dark Reading, where she focuses on cybersecurity news and analysis. She is a business technology journalist who previously reported for InformationWeek, where she covered Microsoft, and Insurance & Technology, where she covered financial ... View Full Bio

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