Why All Employees Are Responsible for Company Cybersecurity

It's not just the IT and security team's responsibility to keep data safe -- every member of the team needs to be involved.

Diya Jolly, Chief Product Officer, Okta

April 1, 2020

5 Min Read

A recent lawsuit filed regarding the infamous 2017 Equifax data breach revealed that the company was using "admin" as a username and password to protect sensitive data from 147 million customers — even though this password has been exposed through data breaches almost 50,000 times, according to the Have I Been Pwned database.

The Equifax breach serves as a stark example of how seemingly benign or minute employee decisions (such as using an easily hacked password or opening a suspicious attachment in an email) can have significant consequences. Weak or stolen passwords cause 81% of data breaches, which indicates our identities — and particularly our login credentials — are highly valuable corporate assets that hackers actively target.

Lax security behavior isn't just dangerous to the company you work for — it can pose significant personal risks as well. When one of your employees makes their company's data vulnerable, they might also be exposing their own sensitive information, like Social Security and credit card numbers. Overall, human error causes a staggering 90% of data breaches, so it's critical you make sure every employee is aware of the risks they pose so they can take active steps to improve security at work. Ideally, your company should have stringent security and identity management policies in place to protect sensitive information and data. But beyond that, here's what you should be encouraging all employees to do:

Be Smart When Working Outside the Office
Experts anticipate the bring-your-own-device market will be worth over $366 billion by 2022 (compared with $30 billion in 2014), which means increasing numbers of employees are doing work on their personal laptops and smartphones. Lots of factors contribute to this trend, including the ubiquity of public Wi-Fi. Working from personal devices and taking advantage of public Wi-Fi networks gives you a significant amount of flexibility, allowing you to send emails from the checkout aisle at the grocery store or work on a report at a café in between meetings.

However, while convenient, doing work on public Wi-Fi networks and personal devices can be risky. Hackers can get access to an employee's personal data by intercepting the information they send or access over the Wi-Fi network. Hackers are also taking advantage of the fact that people like to do work on personal devices such as iPhones. Malware attacks on smartphones rose by 50% between 2018 and 2019, and something as simple as downloading an illegitimate app or failing to update your operating system could expose a mobile device to malware.

Research shows 31% of data breaches lead to employees getting fired, so if your employees are using a personal device or unsecured Wi-Fi network to do work, here are a few things they can do to protect their data:

  • Make sure they are only downloading legitimate, supported apps.

  • Set up two-factor authentication for any app that offers it.

  • Use a strong passcode and biometric authentication (such as fingerprint or face scan) to unlock devices, when available.

  • If they want to use an app that requires or allows for social authentication (such as Facebook Login), double-check what the authenticator shares with other parties. Otherwise, they could unintentionally expose corporate information through Facebook authentication.

Don't Trust Just Your Password to Protect You
The goal for many companies is to "go passwordless," only requiring users to log in to company apps with a variety of factors such as magic links and biometric identifiers, instead of relying on passwords. Ideally, your company should be implementing multifactor authentication and using technology that allows for single sign-on to limit the number of passwords you're expected to manage. But if your organization still requires passwords, encourage your employees to take their personal security a step further by using a password manager. The goal here is for them to make their passwords so complex, not even they know them. Password managers abound with a range of features to suit just about every use case.

Leverage Internal IT Resources
Of course, IT and security teams are there to help! Above all, employees should be paying attention to internal security policies and complying with their organization's regulations. Widespread adoption of cloud technology has changed the way many of us interact with the technology, and all but eliminated constant software patching, but if your business is still operating in an on-premises or hybrid environment, make sure employees are keeping up with the most up-to-date patches to prevent vulnerabilities.

Security is a team sport, and just like your business goals, security is something the entire organization should be thinking about. It's not just the IT and security team's responsibility to keep data safe — every member of the team needs to be involved. When new employees start working at your company, they need to make protecting business data (and their own jobs) a priority from the start.

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About the Author(s)

Diya Jolly

Chief Product Officer, Okta

Diya Jolly is chief product officer at Okta. As CPO, Diya leads product innovation for both workforce and customer identity. She plays an instrumental role in furthering Okta's product leadership, enabling any organization to use any technology. Diya joined Okta from Google, where she was vice president of product management, driving large-scale adoption for some of the company's most critical products including Google Home, Nest, YouTube monetization and Gmail monetization. She served in those roles from 2011 until 2019. Previously, Diya was vice president of Product at FreeWheel and held various product roles at Microsoft and Motorola. Diya received her MBA from Harvard Business School and attended the University of Michigan as an undergraduate.

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