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Vulnerabilities / Threats

10/22/2012
04:20 PM
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Five Habits Of Companies That Catch Insiders

A survey of 40 companies that have successfully dealt with insider threats shows that the solution is less technology and more psychology

Technology is only part of any long-term solution to minimize the potential damage that could be caused by insiders, according to a survey of 40 businesses that have successfully dealt with insider threats.

The survey, conducted by security firm Imperva, shows that businesses that build close relationships with employees and had regular habits regarding intellectual property tend to have greater success at protecting their business' valuable data. The most effective companies identified their important data, established strong ties with employees, spearheaded cross-disciplinary security efforts, and enforced policy with technology, states the report, released today.

"Insider threat management is part psychology and part technology," says Rob Rachwald, director of security for data-security firm Imperva. "There is a recognition that people work with data and intellectual property, but that they don't have a sense of respect for it in the same way that you would have a sense of respect for somebody's wallet."

While less frequent than external attacks, insider threats tend to cause more damage, especially if the insider has privileged access to important data. A study of breach costs released in March by the Ponemon Institute found that negligent insiders -- one form of insider threat -- was the leading cause of data breaches in the United States, accounting for 39 percent of breaches.

[Analysis of dozens of insider breaches in the financial sector revealed frauds that typically went on for more than two years before detection. See Insider Financial Fraud Largely Unsophisticated, But Costly.]

While the report has nearly 30 different recommendations in 10 practice areas, here are the top habits of the successful firms.

1. Educate employees in business' ethics
Businesses need to teach employees to think the same way about information assets as the firms' management because most employees do not have the same viewpoint as their companies. In one study conducted in London, for example, 44 percent of the people surveyed planned to take either customer or intellectual-property data with them when they left their jobs.

"What these organizations did was put in place a series of moral reminders that constantly made it clear that this does not belong to you, and it's criminal if you take it," Rachwald says.

No reminder is as important as when the employee is leaving: Some companies draft strongly worded legal reminders to workers that, if their sensitive data was found at their new companies, they would be held accountable. Making sure that confidential data is labeled as such works as a good reminder as well.

2. Monitor employees, but let them know it
One area that technology can help is in monitoring employees' access to sensitive corporate data. While secretly monitoring employees can catch the rogue insider, frequent, yet subtle reminders to employees that certain activities are being logged is also a good way to prevent incidents in the first place.

Such reminders also continue educating the employees, not just about good habits, but also about what the company considers good policy, says Jim Ricotta, president and CEO of data-security provider Verdasys.

"We have a lot of data that shows once your company gets to a certain size, not that many people are IT security experts, so if you can constantly remind people what the best practice is, they will avoid risky behavior and adopt the behaviors that you want them to," he says.

3. Add nontechnologists to security teams
The companies that performed best in dealing with insiders also had security teams who were not all technologists. By combining human-resource, legal, and business experts along with risk and security professionals, a more well-rounded and effective team resulted, Imperva's Rachwald says.

"The best security teams covered all sorts of malfeasance under one large umbrella," he says. "With that comes the understanding of where the business risk is and putting the right assurance model in place."

Having such depth in a security team can also help the group better make the case for security as profit center, not a cost center, he says.

4. Look for aberrations
Another place that technology can help is in the search for the odd blips that signal an employees is doing something dangerous to the organization. By monitoring logs of the servers where data resides, companies can catch insiders trying to steal data or just making a poor security decision.

"If the IT guy burns five CDs every day and that's normal, then it's fine," Verdasys's Ricotta says. "If you don't burn any CDs, but you burned one last week, we want to flag that and see what was put on that CD."

5. Help them understand the business
While companies should teach employees corporate policy and good security hygiene, it's also important for the security teams to be taught what is important to the business. Security groups should talk to the head of each of the business units and ask questions aimed at defining their risk: What would a competitor do with some sensitive information? What would happen if an employee walked out with these 50,000 records?

"As a security person, you need to know what needs to locked down first, and at least you are not spinning your wheels installing antivirus when that would not make a difference," Rachwald says.

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