Whether they leave for a better job or get fired, and whether they mean to cause problems or do so out of ignorance, ex-workers can pose a threat to your company.
Research indicates that January and February are the most popular job-hunting months, and that one of the main reasons people leave their jobs is for more money. Indeed, with unemployment currently low and the number of overall jobs growing, many workers are currently in a good position to land somewhere else in the next month or two and earn a higher salary. And if they have new jobs, that means they’re leaving their old companies — maybe yours.
With the annual job shuffle still hot, it’s important to note that nobody wants a bad professional breakup resulting in burned bridges, hurt feelings, and lost — sometimes stolen — property.
By “property” I mean valuable assets such as proprietary data, confidential information, and identity credentials. Unfortunately, that property can be compromised — often unintentionally.
Various studies agree on the following:
- A large percentage of departing employees — including executives — take their company’s intellectual property with them because they created it and think it’s theirs.
- A significant number of enterprises don’t have policies or technologies in place to prevent loss of intellectual property (IP).
- Most IP loss from unintentional inside breaches occurs from employee ignorance or a lack of awareness of company policy and IP law.
- Over half of small business owners say they have no user access policy for remote workers, according to information security company Shred-it.
At the time of year when so many people are leaving their jobs to start new ones, it’s a good time to be reminded how to protect your IP. Here are three tips, followed by a closer look at each:
- Have maximum visibility into who has access — and how much — into your network and systems.
- Vigilantly enforce that access with identity governance and administration (IGA) policies.
- Deprovision access when situations change, especially when employees leave.
Long-standing best practices dictate that, as a default, users should be granted the least-entitled privilege relative to their roles and responsibilities. Generally speaking, most enterprises have three specific types of users:
- Regular users who are provided with access only to the applications and data specific to their jobs.
- High-end users who can provide additional access to regular users when necessary, but who are limited in the scope of their ability to grant that access.
- Admins who can both access and provide other users with access to anything that exists in their domain.
Two primary challenges exist, however.
First, longtime employees often change positions without losing access to their former positions, which means a large number of workers have too much access. Enterprises are also known to duplicate those users’ access for new users, who then have too much privilege.
Second, access reviews are cumbersome and time-consuming. It’s not uncommon for resource-strained managers to automatically authorize access without paying close attention to what an individual user really should have access to.
In both cases, roles-based access control solutions are available to mitigate these issues.
Embracing IGA policies enables enterprises to define, audit, monitor, and enforce compliance with internal, industry, and government regulations. IGA provides automated access visibility, schedules automated access reviews, and helps manage third-party contractors, remote workers, and short-term interns.
On a personal/professional level, education is paramount. Employees should be reminded about enterprise IP policies on a regular basis. It’s also a good idea to post policies on message boards, in corporate newsletters, and on intranet portals. Right before employees do leave, remind them again what is OK and not OK to take with them. And make sure to monitor their activities within the network once they give notice. This is one reason that organizations should inspect all traffic in and out of their systems using some form of SSL decryption.
Here’s the tricky part: Before leaving, the former employee must relinquish access to the company’s network and IP. In addition to collecting all physical items, such as computers, access fobs, security badges, and keys, appointed officials need to deprovision all of the applications the employee has been using while also terminating email and network accounts. The same types of automated identity and access management (IAM) and IAG solutions that provision and enforce access can also handle deprovisioning activities.
Another issue not to be overlooked: When employees are terminated involuntarily, they’re sometimes allowed to return to their desks unsupervised to clear their belongings while they still have network access. This happens ostensibly to spare them from public shaming. But it should never be allowed, as it poses huge risks to all parties. Respectfully accompany them so they don’t do something emotional and potentially damaging.
Look on the bright side: You may be losing a valued employee, but you’ll be preserving the integrity of your most valuable assets.