Five Ways Your Employees Sidestep Information Security Policies
By Susan Richardson, Manager/Content Strategy, Code42
A good employee finds ways to overcome roadblocks and get the job done. But in the case of enterprise IT security, good employees may be your biggest threat. In fact, a recent Dell survey found that nearly seventy percent of IT professionals believe employee workarounds are the greatest risk to their organizations’ security.
We’ve all been there: juggling numerous log-in credentials, following tedious document transfer policies, struggling with subpar app functionality—all the while knowing there’s a better way. IT security policies have a knack for getting in the way of getting the job done. Dell also found that ninety-one percent of workers feel their work productivity is negatively impacted by IT security measures. So what are some of the most common workarounds used by imaginative, driven but often password-fatigued employees?
Easy-to-remember passwords. The average person today has twenty-five personal and professional digital access points. Changing those twenty-five passwords every ninety days, as recommended, results in creating and recalling 125 passwords each year. It’s no wonder people use easy-to-remember passwords; and unfortunate that simple passwords negate much of the security benefit of password-based authentication. One 2015 study found that seventy-three percent of online accounts are guarded by duplicated passwords—that is, the same key unlocks many different doors. Another study found that even those who try to be clever by using unique passwords are unlikely to beat the hackers: 1 in 2 passwords follow one of thirteen predictable (read: hackable) patterns. And finally, to skirt the password-reset problem altogether, some savvy users simply call their help desk to claim a forgotten password. The IT-driven reset often overrides the regular password reset requirements, meaning employees can continually recycle the same password. Thanks to this workaround, TeleSign found that 1 in 2 people are using passwords that are at least five years old.
Tricking the session time-out. Most systems and applications have automatic session time-out features, based on a defined idle period. But many organizations take this security feature a step further, using proximity detectors that time out a user’s session as soon as they step out of range. However, many users “beat” this security feature by placing a piece of tape on the detector, or by placing a cup over the detector. When they do step away from their desks, their devices remain completely unsecured and vulnerable.
Transferring documents outside the secure network. The mobile workforce demands anytime-anywhere access to their documents and data. Most organizations have strict protocols on accessing data through secure network connections, such as a virtual personal network (VPN). But many mobile workers aim to streamline their productivity by circumventing these protocols: emailing sensitive documents to themselves, storing files in a personal Dropbox account or other public cloud, and even taking photos/screenshots with a smartphone and texting these images.
Intentionally disabling security features. One of the most popular workarounds is also the most straightforward. Where possible, users will simply turn off security features that hinder their productivity. This is especially true for BYOD workplaces, where employees have greater control over the features, functionalities and settings of their endpoint devices.
The Post-It Note Pandemic. The most common workaround is also very simple. A survey by Meldium found that most people record their passwords somewhere—whether in a spreadsheet containing all their log-in credentials, on their smartphones, or on a piece of paper, such as a trusty Post-It Note™—likely affixed to the very device it is intended to secure.
So, what’s an IT administrator to do with all these well-intentioned, hard-working, security risk takers? Most experts agree that communication is key. IT security policies should avoid edicts without explanation, leaving the end user with productivity loss and no apparent upside. Instead, many organizations are implementing more rigorous IT security training for all employees, showing them specifically how security protocols protect against data leakage, data breaches and other threats, highlighting how workarounds put data (and their jobs) at risk, and keeping IT security top-of-mind with regular communications and meetings with staff.
Download the executive brief, Protecting Data in the Age of Employee Churn, to learn more about how endpoint backup can mitigate the risks associated with insider threat.