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Commentary

The 2009 Security Tsunami

Many in the United States think the party in power has sacrificed too much privacy and liberty in order to address security concerns, particularly in regard to terrorism. The incoming administration is likely to undo a lot of this, but, at the same time, a massive number of very upset people with and without tech skills are going to find themselves jobless.
Many in the United States think the party in power has sacrificed too much privacy and liberty in order to address security concerns, particularly in regard to terrorism. The incoming administration is likely to undo a lot of this, but, at the same time, a massive number of very upset people with and without tech skills are going to find themselves jobless.Unfortunately, some of these people will make up for their income gap by engaging in illegal activities. This suggests security exposures are likely to spike in 2009 and that initial cuts in security spending both for the public and private sectors may have to be reversed around midyear.

2009: The Scary Year Ahead

We've already had laid-off workers take over a plant and several instances where others have shot their co-workers and managers -- the most recent at a company Christmas party in Canada. Violent responses to large-scale downsizings are likely to increase dramatically in 2009 as waves of layoffs cast people into a market with nothing to offer. With a down stock market effectively eliminating their financial reserves, many will be extremely angry. In the past, laid-off employees have vandalized their companies, and the expected large number of IT-trained employees expected to be laid off in 2009 should result in several instances of cybervandalism. While defacing Web pages probably will be the most common, there undoubtedly will be several instances of serious and material damage done to systems by ex-employees who still have access to critical systems.

As mentioned above, theft will increase sharply and range from petty theft of office supplies, equipment, and personal property to large-scale financial theft, home and business invasions, and identity theft. Financial desperation generally leads to some really bad decisions, and a large number of people will make them.

Finally, financial downturns typically lead to a massive increase in financial scams. Folks in critical need for funds can be more easily tricked, and we will likely see a mix of both traditional phone-based attacks, phishing attacks, and full-on cyberfraud unlike anything we have ever seen in a given year. 2009: The Year Of Vigilance

So many of the major security problems we will likely see in 2009 can be mitigated by just ensuring that employees know what to do, using good layoff practices, and making sure the company doesn't do anything stupid. A lavish executive party using corporate jets right after a big layoff would fall into the paint-a-target-on-my-back-stupid category, for instance.

With regard to vigilance, employees should be asked to keep their eyes open and report suspicious activities. People who are very upset are seldom very careful, and often their behavior can be noted with enough time to evacuate a building, call the authorities, or at least lock a door. If an employee hears another make violent threats, that person should be encouraged to report it; an anonymous method for doing so would be advised.

In anticipation of layoffs, practices to remove IT access at termination and the overall security process during a layoff should be reviewed. Many companies haven't done big layoffs in a while, and those that learn by doing will likely find the experience both excessively expensive and unacceptably dangerous. It would be wise to do security audits and tests to ensure that the company is prepared for what will likely happen in 2009. Firms like RSA, which has already been engaged in countering attacks in the financial community, could become invaluable in preparing for some of these issues. However, I still recommend that employees be brought in as part of the solution. If they know what to do, particularly in the face of a violent event, much of the damage can be mitigated and possibly even avoided. Done right, employees are forced to think of the repercussions. Sometimes that is enough to keep the employee from doing something unfortunate. Wrapping Up

We are forewarned that 2009 will be filled with employee issues and that already many are drifting toward violence. Not being prepared for this eventuality will, in hindsight, look negligent, and I know the law firms, which are also under financial pressure, are setting up for a heavy litigation year. Do the work to ensure that your company, your employees, and you are safe, and it will pay high dividends next year by keeping you and your firm out of the headlines.

-- Rob Enderle is president and founder of Enderle Group. Special to Dark Reading.

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