3/20/2019
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The Insider Threat: It's More Common Than You Think

A new study shows why security teams must look holistically across cybersecurity, compliance, technology, and human resources to truly address the business effects of workforce risk.

Many companies take an "it will never happen here" mindset to insider threats because they believe they hire the best, most honest and trusted employees. That may be true in the beginning, after a bulletproof background screening done years ago. But later on, stress factors sometimes intrude in an individual's life such as a difficult divorce, a DUI, or some other type of arrest, bankruptcy, or lien.

Most of the time, these stressors are external and out of sight of the employer. In some cases, they lead employees to disrupt events internally, which puts organizations at risk, even if executives know nothing about the individual circumstances.

There are many recent examples of workforce problems that have negatively affected large corporations financially and in terms of their reputations:

  • A former Goodwill employee stole $93,000 from the charity by faking payroll records.
  • A rogue Tesla employee broke into the company's manufacturing operating system and sent highly sensitive data outside of the firm.
  • Uber's 60-person crisis team is dealing with 1,200 severe incidents reported to the company weekly, including verbal threats, physical and sexual assault, rape, theft, and serious traffic accidents.

The good news is that many security executives have begun to recognize the fallout from insider workforce risks. According to a recent Endera survey of 200 security executives, on average, companies with 1,000 employees or more experience at least three workforce-related incidents a week — that's 156 per year — which includes fraud, cybersecurity risks, workplace violence, and device theft or loss. Several key trends from this report also highlight the need for security executives to dig deeper and be more proactive.

A proactive workplace safety culture: The Endera report revealed that 88% of respondents agree that companies can proactively head off problems through effective policy enforcement and employee assistance programs to retain talent and ensure a motivated and safe workforce environment. Conversely, in the wake of a workforce-related security incident, almost 40% of respondents reported that employees lost confidence in the organization's ability to keep them safe.

Supply chain risks: A full 87% of security executives surveyed said independent contractors/freelancers are most likely to be the cause of workforce-related security incidents such as fraud and device theft at their company, and 64% reported that supply chain/third-party vendors were the most likely cause of these risks. The report went on to find that 71% of those contractors have face-to-face interactions with customers, including those who rely on the extension of the enterprise to provide daily services such as child care, transportation, healthcare, and more.

A broader, more holistic view of threats: A full 86% of respondents reported device theft or loss among their top three risks, followed by fraud (80%) and cybersecurity threats (74%). Three in 10 (31%) respondents cited cybersecurity incidents, including IP theft and data loss as the costliest internal or external security threat being experienced by their organization over the last 12 months. While cyber threats are clearly important, security executives need to consider physical workforce risks as well.

Negative business effects of workforce risks: The vast majority — 98% — of security executives reported that their organization has experienced negative business effects as a result of workforce-related incidents. For example, the survey found that:

  • 63% of respondents stated they experienced financial loss and loss of sensitive data.
  • 60% shared that customers' trust in the organization decreased and that the organization's reputation suffered.
  • 59% reported declining workforces' confidence in the organization's ability to keep them safe and that employees left the organization as a result of these incidences.

Pre- and post-employment screening: While three-quarters of all organizations surveyed conduct pre-employment screens 44% of the time, companies said they are not aware of potential workforce or personnel issues prior to an incident. Just under half (48%) of respondents said these employee screening checks are continued on a regular basis. Of those using internal data from data loss prevention tools, user activity monitoring, communications monitoring, or keystroke software to evaluate risk in their workforce, four in 10 respondents reported that the information isn't always available quickly enough, and 34% reported that the range of information isn't up to date and doesn't always cover all of the data, such as ongoing scanning of public criminal or civil records, ongoing sanctions, or license requirements needed to actively mitigate the risk. The majority of respondents reported that employee screenings, such as background checks or ongoing evaluation, happens on a less-frequent basis, with only 11% reporting that it happens monthly and only 2% of respondents reporting that their organization updates external background checks on an individual on a daily basis.

The ability to proactively evaluate, diagnose, and mitigate workforce risk by knowing and understanding all risk factors is critical. Security teams must move from a reactive to a proactive workforce risk management approach and look holistically across the entire enterprise including cybersecurity, compliance, technology, and human resources to truly address the business impacts of workforce risk.

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Join Dark Reading LIVE for two cybersecurity summits at Interop 2019. Learn from the industry's most knowledgeable IT security experts. Check out the Interop agenda here.

Raj Ananthanpillai is the chairman and CEO of Endera. Previously, he was the CEO of InfoZen, a high-end cloud and DevOps IT services company which was successfully sold in 2017. Prior to this, he served as the chief strategy officer of ePlus, Inc. (NASDAQ: PLUS), a business ... View Full Bio
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