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Is insider risk threatening your growth and innovation?

Even within the most educated and aware security culture, there will always be risks to company data.

Is insider risk threatening your growth and innovation?
[Artem/Adobe Stock]

A lot has changed in a short amount of time. With the rush to remote work at the onset of the pandemic, digital transformation shifted from a growth and productivity strategy to a business imperative necessary to keep organizations running. Even those organizations that were already hybrid had to suddenly support an entire remote staff—effectively overnight. As we transition, with stops and starts, into the new world of hybrid remote work, it’s apparent that there’s no going back.

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Digital transformation timelines jumped ahead by seven years in a matter of weeks in early 2020 and things aren’t slowing down anytime soon. We are now riding the crest of a second wave of digital transformation that is sweeping every company and every industry as companies aggressively target growth. This second wave is great for innovation, but it brings with it an inherent risk that can have unexpected ramifications across any business: Insider risk is growing and it threatens to limit the speed, agility, and innovation that organizations are counting on to power their growth.

WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT INSIDER RISK

Insider risk is not a new problem, but it’s one that is becoming more urgent due to the changes brought on by this new world of hybrid remote work. Information security teams have focused on external cyber attacks—malware, DDoS attacks, ransomware—with good reason. Newspaper headlines are consumed by these types of attacks, which creates a sense of urgency and the impression that external attacks are the most damaging. In my experience, this is no longer the case.

Insider risk is any user-driven data exposure event, either malicious, negligent, or accidental in nature. Within your organization, think about all the files that have been uploaded, downloaded, synced, and shared across continents and timezones. Regardless of intent, losing control of proprietary and sensitive data can have a significant financial, reputational, and operational impact. They introduce competitive risk, for example, when the crown jewels—source code, product designs, road maps—end up in the wrong hands, like in the case of Proofpoint. From a financial perspective, according to Aberdeen Research, the cost of an insider data breach can be as much as 20% of a company’s annual revenue. The impact is real, and it’s time to address it.

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KEEP YOUR DATA FROM ENDING UP IN THE WRONG HANDS

Of course, technology is critical to managing insider risk, but when what we’re ultimately talking about is trying to boost innovation, collaboration, and speed, then we need to start by looking at those who are at the center of this: your people. Insider risk is created by employees, but that doesn’t mean you should treat them the same way you’d treat an external attacker. With hackers, the intent is clear: it’s malicious. But employees with no ill intentions could easily leak data by accident or due to negligence.

To combat insider risk, treat your employees as allies in your cybersecurity efforts. This all starts with transparency. It’s important to tell employees exactly what the company does to monitor for insider risk. If the organization monitors data movement, companies need to communicate that to employees. Make sure they understand that the company trusts them, but that they also have to, as the saying goes, “trust, but verify.”

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The most important part of making employees allies in combating insider risk is through security awareness and training. Companies want employees to use collaboration platforms intelligently and in line with corporate policy. That means the company needs to first establish a well-thought-out policy, and then educate team members on the right ways to handle data.

Even within the most educated and aware security culture, there will always be risks to company data. Old-school data loss prevention (DLP) tools designed 10 years ago are just not effective in this new cloud-based, work-from-anywhere environment. These legacy DLP solutions are rooted in first knowing where your data is, creating complex, unending policies, and then eventually blocking users from doing their work.

Managing insider risk requires an approach that fundamentally shifts the data security mindset to focus on results that deliver business value, and a technology that was built to protect data without interfering with collaboration. Insider risk is an impediment to growth and innovation. Effectively managing insider risk is the key to unlocking the full potential of this next wave of digital transformation.

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Ananth is a highly accomplished partner ecosystem and business development executive with deep expertise in the cybersecurity industry.

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