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Past and Present Employees Are SMBs Biggest Security Threats

2 Nov 2015 by Bob Violino

Small to Medium businesses (SMBs) are an important part of the economy, not only employing lots of people but often bringing innovative and entrepreneurial approaches to business processes, products and services.

They’re also just as vulnerable to security breaches as larger enterprises.

Technology tools can surely play a key role in the effort to protect data, applications and systems. But to be truly successful at strengthening their organizations’ security posture, security and risk (S&R) professionals need to look beyond technology to people and processes, according to Forrester Research’s report, “Top 11 Trends S&R Pros Should Watch: 2015” (June 2015).

“New technologies have emerged, but none are game changers today,” the report notes. “S&R pros must continue to focus on their security program, including people and processes, to address evolving threats and externalities like changing data localization requirements. Data governance and stewardship will be critical for big data efforts.”

Facing current and former employee threats

One of the biggest security risks SMBs face is intrusions or other security incidents conducted by former and present employees. A report by Cloudentr by Gemalto says about 80% of SMB IT professionals cited employees as the weakest link in cloud security.

The company for its 2015 State of SMB Cybersecurity report surveyed more than 430 IT professionals to uncover IT professionals' security challenges and how they plan to tackle cybersecurity for their companies in 2015.

Former employees should also be a cause of concern. And this should not be a surprise, given how sloppy companies can be about cutting off access to systems when workers leave the organization. According to a report by Intermedia and Osterman Research, 89% of the organizations surveyed retained access (a valid login and password) to at least one application from a former employer.

Former employees continue to have access to a range of accounts, IT services and platforms that they used while working for a previous employer, according to the report. For example, 24% of users still have access to a PayPal account they used when working for a previous company, 21% have access to Facebook, and 18% have access to LinkedIn.

Many of the former employees could access “confidential” or “highly confidential” data, 49% actually logged into their employee accounts after leaving the company, and 68% admitted to storing work files in personal cloud storage services.

It’s not surprising that cloud applications are falling through the cracks during the employee off-boarding process, according to the report. In many companies, the responsibility for provisioning apps falls to different departments. For example, email is provisioned by IT, payroll apps are provisioned by human resources and line-of-business apps are provisioned by department managers.

“With this approach, there is no clear responsibility for decommissioning and deprovisioning,” the report says. “The result: rampant rogue access.”

Following are some suggestions of how SMBs can bolster their information security.        

  • First, conduct a thorough information security assessment. You can’t know how to improve security throughout the organization if you don’t know where the weaknesses and vulnerabilities are, as well as the potential threat vectors. If the company lacks the resources to do this internally, consider hiring a security managed services provider or experienced consulting firm to help with the assessment.
  • Consider using cloud-based services. This year, about 10% of overall IT security enterprise product capabilities will be delivered via the cloud, according to Gartner. “A significant number of security markets are being impacted by newly emerged delivery models. This is resulting in the growth of cloud-based security services, which are transforming, to different degrees, the way security is supplied and consumed by customers,” the firm says. More than 30% of security controls deployed to the small or midsize business segment will be cloud-based this year, Gartner says.
  • Deploy the latest tools that go beyond basic antivirus. As malware increases in sophistication and the number of new variants rises, antivirus technologies have steadily become less effective at stopping advanced threats to employee endpoints and servers, and S&R professionals have begun to realize this, Forrester notes in its “Top 11 Trends S&R Pros Should Watch: 2015” report. A growing number of security professionals are considering replacing their third-party antivirus tools with native operating system antivirus augmented with one or more of the following third-party antivirus alternatives: application whitelisting, application privilege management, application integrity protection, endpoint execution isolation, and endpoint visibility and control.
  • Be sure to effectively manage employee access to all IT resources. When someone leaves the company for any reason, revoke access to the corporate network, as well as any business-related data and applications.

If you need an extension to your IT staff to help secure your SMB, contact Insight at1.800.INSIGHT. To learn more about emerging security solutions and how they can impact your organization, visit us online.