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Vulnerabilities / Threats

1/21/2016
10:30 AM
Mike Tierney
Mike Tierney
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When The Boss Is Your Biggest Security Risk

No one possesses more sensitive information in an organization than upper management. So why do companies screen executives on the way in but not on the way out?

Early last year, Chesapeake Energy filed a lawsuit contending its former CEO took confidential data, including maps of potential oil and gas drilling sites, and used the information to start a competitive company.

Ride-sharing company Lyft filed a complaint in San Francisco Superior Court in late 2014 accusing its former COO of stealing confidential product plans and financial information as he exited the company to join rival Uber. 

While these accusations play out, it’s a good time to take a look at C-level departures and the need to protect the company they are leaving. It’s well-documented that intellectual property (IP) theft occurs at an alarming rate when employees leave a company. Recent events underscore that IP theft can take place at the highest levels, where access to the most confidential and sensitive information is typically unfettered. 

Unfortunately, too many companies screen employees on the way in, but not on the way out.

Think about it—organizations execute due care when vetting C-level candidates to ensure a good hire for a position of such responsibility. They put candidates through a rigorous interview process that includes extensive background checks. Many boards of directors even require an investigation of the candidate, often involving private investigators that specialize in this type of vetting. 

But are these organizations and boards exercising the same level of diligence when senior executives leave? Are there processes in place to protect the organization’s confidential information? Not always.

Companies should have a policy in place that mitigates risk when employees depart. At least two actions are critical:

1. Review the employee’s online activity during the 30-day period preceding notice of resignation, or during the period when an employee may believe they are going to be terminated.

2. Review Confidentiality and Intellectual Property Agreements with the departing employee in advance of their departure and require a certification that all confidential information in the employee’s possession has been returned and/or destroyed. 

These practices are even more critical for executives. After all, no one in the company is in possession of more sensitive information than senior management. 

When a senior executive departure is imminent, the CEO should take the lead by working with the company’s most senior information security resource and legal team to examine the departing executive’s recent activity. Both parties should review agreements that were signed at the beginning of the executive’s tenure. The departing executive should be reminded of their obligations and asked to certify that they are not in possession of confidential information and that they will protect confidentiality after they have moved on. 

If the CEO is departing, the board must act. A director should be designated to work with the senior information security resource and legal team to conduct the needed reviews of activity and agreements. That director may be empowered to select another senior executive in the company to act in their place.   

The company risks significant harm when departing employees take work product or confidential information with them. It’s too large of a risk to ignore. And with respect to senior management, the potential for damage is too big to rely only on trust.

Mike Tierney is the Chief Operating Officer at SpectorSoft, a leader in user activity monitoring and user behavior analytics. SpectorSoft develops software that helps businesses identify and detect insider threats, conduct efficient and accurate investigations, and enhance ... View Full Bio
 

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Dr.T
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Dr.T,
User Rank: Ninja
1/27/2016 | 10:41:37 AM
Re: CISO / board
 I guess that is true. If there is intention harming the business, anybody can find a way to do it.
Joe Stanganelli
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Joe Stanganelli,
User Rank: Ninja
1/26/2016 | 11:18:52 AM
Re: CISO / board
If the CISO answers to the CIO and the CIO wants to leave and take company information along, can the CIO not potentially impact security reviews in some fashion (as opposed to if the CISO answers to the board)?

Simply food for thought.
Dr.T
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Dr.T,
User Rank: Ninja
1/25/2016 | 9:57:50 AM
Re: Reconsidering Data Storage and Use of Traditional Files
Yes. These all make sense. It is not possible to bloke entire knowledge transfer for 100% tough.
Dr.T
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Dr.T,
User Rank: Ninja
1/25/2016 | 9:56:21 AM
Re: CISO / board
Where CISO reports would not have any impact on this in my view, but I hear what you are saying.
Dr.T
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Dr.T,
User Rank: Ninja
1/25/2016 | 9:54:34 AM
Re: Audit Process
There may be exit questionnaire to understand if there was any leak of sensitive information. Other than that I guess it goes with other security measure such as making sure sensitive information does not leave the secure network. 
Dr.T
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Dr.T,
User Rank: Ninja
1/25/2016 | 9:52:44 AM
c-level
 

Maybe I tis better to make c-level has a stake in the organization. They should own a few percentages of the organization so they do not exit for a better opportunity.
RetiredUser
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RetiredUser,
User Rank: Ninja
1/25/2016 | 2:16:16 AM
Reconsidering Data Storage and Use of Traditional Files
Someone like me looks at this all-to-familiar story and sees not a process issue but a data issue.  Too many companies that have critical information are still stuck in the old model of .doc .txt .pdf .vsd - you get the idea; files.  Moving forward we are looking at an era where files will no longer exist and the manipulation and sharing of data will not be done through the saving or emailing of a file.  Programs will store and display data and the computers used to do this will not allow screenshots and will block screen scrapers.  Special monitors will prevent photographs from being taken.  The problem has always been the data and its various file formats that are easily replicated.  We need to attack the issue there; rethink and redesign how critical data is created, managed and shared.
Joe Stanganelli
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Joe Stanganelli,
User Rank: Ninja
1/22/2016 | 11:00:18 PM
CISO / board
This is one of a number of reasons why some people believe that CISOs should answer directly to the board instead of to the CIO (or, for that matter, to another C-suite executive).

Of course, what do you do if the CISO is leaving?
RyanSepe
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RyanSepe,
User Rank: Ninja
1/22/2016 | 1:14:12 PM
Audit Process
Good article and all too true. Off boarding is not as rigorously performed like on boarding. It seems counterintuitive when realizing that you were privy to zero company data before and now you are well versed. Could DLP Discovery be helpful here to monitor employees leaving. What are some best practices here that may be helpful?
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