Is Your Intellectual Property Slipping Out the Door with Their Pink Slip?
(I wrote the following article for BABM Business Magazine back in May/June of 2009. The article is reprinted here with their permission.)
With the latest layoff news continuing to add chaos to the economy, CEOs need to protect their businesses in case of staff cuts, restructuring or consolidation of offices. While your company may not be planning layoffs now, there is no guarantee that in three or six months from now this will be the case. There are steps your business should take, both proactively and reactively, to ensure that your most valuable information such as customer data and contracts isn’t walking out the door with terminated employees.
Ideally, even before layoffs occur, businesses need to be prepared to protect their assets. Employees may sense a layoff is imminent and start grabbing what data they can before they get the official word. This could lead to a loss of your company’s most valuable contacts that former employees may use to compete against you. Proactive monitoring of systems, before layoffs begin, can ensure that your company’s data is protected.
There are a variety of technologies you can implement to monitor your employees’ access of specific applications. For example, you can monitor who has access to what type of database and determine if an employee is running unusual reports. Are certain employees extracting every field, downloading the data to a local disk and/or sending it to themselves over email?
Having a solid process for role provisioning and access management will help limit access of certain information to those people who need it to do their jobs. If levels of access to various applications and corporate information are assigned for each job description, it is easier to set up monitoring systems for each employee as well as protocols for changing passwords and other termination procedures to remove access when an employee is let go.
A good rule of thumb is to trust, but verify. Monitoring can be performed at many levels and includes database access, disc usage, and whether or not USB drives are being plugged into company computers. Monitoring can even determine if proprietary data is being sent to an email account. When it comes to access management and monitoring, CEOs and executive management need to weigh how much protection they want with how much they protection they can afford. It’s a formula that will vary for every company.
Once a company is in an action stage and layoffs are about to begin, it’s almost too late to protect and secure its data without shutting off access altogether (which may not be feasible in all cases). As a fallback plan, many companies provide their security team with a list of users they plan to let go. On the morning the layoffs are to take place, the team is tasked with acting on the list and locking out those employees from their accounts. But there’s often the lingering feeling that something was missed. Are they prevented from accessing your systems remotely? Are they still receiving their email on their home PCs? Does the employee have access to vendor accounts? Can your security team effectively map the employee to all the accounts they have accumulated over the years?
There are many types of technologies that can be used from a proactive perspective and subsequently verified from a reactive perspective. CEOs should be proactive and have an effective user provisioning solution in place. This ensures that they have accounted for all the systems and the types of system access where a user has an account. Once layoffs have occurred companies should continue monitoring mission critical systems to ensure that the access has been terminated appropriately. A security event monitoring solution on the back end can monitor log files or traffic patterns to these systems and immediately notify of any unusual activity.
Companies that have implemented centralized account management systems have peace of mind that they can quickly prevent access by employees who are no longer associated with the company. They can be certain that they have locked all accounts being managed by the system and actions such as terminations can be performed by management (ahead of time) rather than needing to involve people from the security team.
Companies that have not implemented a centralized account management system are increasing their workload and effectively putting valuable corporate assets at risk. At this point, there has to be due diligence as you have to perform these tasks manually. The potential for damage is great, however, and fallout will rise exponentially as more layoffs occur. If you have implemented a centralized user provisioning system, congratulations! If not, don’t panic, there are still tasks you can perform to help protect your assets.
- Prepare your list well in advance and give your security team a chance to locate the various user accounts.
- Work with functional managers, supervisors, or project managers to further determine the user’s access.
- Monitor system logs and network traffic to determine if any unusual access or traffic patterns appear. Respond immediately.
Even with this type of preparation, the tasks can be quite time consuming and it could take weeks to properly locate and delete access. Hence, our advice is that it’s better to take more proactive steps to avoid headaches and possible customer data and other business asset loss later on. Getting a handle on your role provisioning and user access procedures and having a plan for monitoring employee application use are good places to start.
Staff reduction is never easy and you should make the separation as painless as possible. It is unfortunate that some employees view corporate assets as their own and feel entitled to take information with them when they leave. As a business owner responsible to shareholders or even to the remaining workforce, you need to take every action possible to ensure the protection of this data.