Time for a security check
- By Jabulani Leffall
- Oct 24, 2008
"Disaster breeds opportunity," so the old slogan goes. But when it
comes to uncertain economic times, organizations should double-check
their internal policies and procedures, security experts say.
A key question is whether layoffs, or the prospect of them, will
increase the likelihood of information theft by employees. Slavik
Markovich, CTO and founder of security firm Sentrigo Inc.,
advocates data monitoring as a preemptive measure.
"Now would be good time to refresh policy procedures with
employees, and monitor their activities, especially those of
privileged users," Markovich said. "It is equally important to
monitor all access to data that is commonly targeted by insiders,
even if seemingly it is not central to the company's business.
Because data can be stolen without disappearing, monitoring is the
only way to track events in a way that allows a quick response and
Security experts pointed to scenarios where lax internal
security can be a problem, leading to data theft, sabotage and
security chaos. The threat rises with economic instability,
according to Tyler Reguly, nCircle's head security engineer, in an
"Now, however, in the face of deteriorating economic conditions
as well as acquisitions and layoffs, the relative importance of
insider threats is rising," Reguly wrote.
Unscrupulous people fearing job loss may "take insurance" in the
form of stolen data they can sell later. The data could be used for
identity theft or poaching customers, or they could bring sensitive
information to competitors.
A recent survey by security firm Cyberark
quantified the potential threat. Nearly 90 percent of IT
administrator respondents admitted they would take sensitive
information with them if their jobs were on the chopping block.
At-risk information ranged from customer databases to the CEO's
personal information. More than 33 percent said they would take the
password list granting access to sensitive information, such as
financial reports, accounts and HR records.
In the IT community, one practice is to carry out company sabotage
for the sake of demonstrating employee necessity. Planting logic
bombs is one example. It sends the message, "You're the only one
who understands this; we need you back at the office."
A different case of sabotage happened this past July. Terry
Childs, a disgruntled system administrator working for the city of
San Francisco, suspected that he was about to be laid off. In
response, he blocked access to the city's IT network infrastructure
using a password only he knew, menacing the city's
multimillion-dollar wide area network.
Company mergers suggest impending layoffs, where the aim is to cut
"redundant employees" in the name of market efficiency. It's
fertile ground for security problems.
Cumbersome and drawn out mergers with long transitional periods
may create an occasion for data to be mishandled, lost or stolen.
Security protocols can be breached under the guise of helplessness
or collaboration. For instance, someone may call and ask for help
logging into a system.
"There is always risk and while you need to move fast, you also
need to consider IT controls and scope very carefully and make sure
you have conversion and security controls built into your plan,"
said Michael Cangemi, a past president of both Financial Executives
International and the Information Systems Audit and Control