Inside Job: The Subtle Ways Employees Bypass Security Measures

21 Jun 2024

The biggest threat to your company's cybersecurity might not be a shadowy hacker lurking in the dark corners of the internet. It could be the well-meaning employee sitting in the next cubicle...or remotely at home. While malicious insiders certainly exist, the most common cybersecurity breaches often stem from subtle, unintentional actions by employees who are simply trying to do their jobs. These seemingly harmless shortcuts and workarounds can create gaping holes in your security defenses, leaving your sensitive data vulnerable.

The Quiet Threat Within

Humans are creatures of habit and convenience. When faced with complex or cumbersome security measures, we often seek the path of least resistance. While this ingenuity is valuable in many aspects of work, it can become a liability when it comes to cybersecurity, often without even realizing the risks being introduced. This can lead to behaviors that, while seemingly innocuous, can compromise even the most robust security systems.

Methods of Bypassing Security

  1. Using Personal Devices

    The "bring your own device" (BYOD) trend has blurred the lines between personal and professional life. Employees frequently use their smartphones, tablets, and laptops for work, bypassing corporate security controls like firewalls and monitoring tools. Employees can use a personal smartphone to photograph a sensitive document, run unsanctioned screen recording software, or access unsecured Wi-Fi networks, which can lead to a significant data leak. Remote work amplifies this risk, as employees have more autonomy over their devices and work environments.

  2. Cloud Storage Services

    Cloud storage services like Google Drive, Dropbox, and OneDrive are convenient for sharing files. However, employees can use these services to upload sensitive company data to their personal accounts, effectively bypassing security measures put in place to protect that data. This may be done without malicious intent but can lead to significant data leaks.

  3. Password Pitfalls

    Passwords remain a cornerstone of cybersecurity, yet they are often the weakest link. It's human nature to want to simplify things, and passwords are no exception. Employees might reuse passwords across multiple accounts, choose easily guessable passwords, or even share them with colleagues. Furthermore, they may store passwords insecurely on personal devices or use weak authentication methods. These practices make it easy for attackers to gain unauthorized access to sensitive systems and data.

  4. The Lure of Convenience

    Security measures like firewalls, antivirus software, and data loss prevention (DLP) tools are essential, but they can also be perceived as inconvenient or hindering productivity. In an effort to streamline their work, employees might disable security features, use unsanctioned software, or transfer data through unapproved channels, all in the name of efficiency.

  5. Using Unauthorized Software

    Employees may download unauthorized software or apps onto company devices, bypassing security checks and potentially introducing malware. This practice often stems from a desire to increase productivity or convenience.

  6. Clicking on Phishing Links

    Phishing attacks continue to be a prevalent threat, preying on human curiosity and trust. Even with regular training, employees can fall victim to cleverly crafted emails, clicking on malicious links, or divulging sensitive information. A momentary lapse in judgment and a click on a malicious link can give attackers a foothold in your network.

  7. Circumventing Data Loss Prevention (DLP) Controls

    Employees may find ways to transfer data outside of approved channels, such as using personal email accounts or cloud storage services. This can happen when employees need to work remotely or share information quickly.

  8. Wearable Technology

    Wearable devices like smartwatches can be used to store and transfer small amounts of sensitive data. These devices are often overlooked in security policies. Smartwatches, fitness trackers, and other wearable devices can collect and transmit a surprising amount of data, including location information, conversations, and even keystrokes. Many smartwatches can even capture photos. If not properly secured, these devices could be a potential avenue for data exfiltration.

  9. Unapproved File Transfer Protocol (FTP) Servers

    Employees might set up or use unapproved FTP servers to transfer large volumes of data. These servers can be easily overlooked if not monitored by IT security.

  10. Wi-Fi Tethering

    Using personal mobile devices as Wi-Fi hotspots can allow employees to connect corporate devices to unsecured networks, bypassing company firewalls and other security measures.

  11. Use of Steganography

    Steganography involves hiding data within other files, such as images or audio files. Employees can embed sensitive information within seemingly innocuous files, making it difficult to detect unauthorized data transfers.

  12. Printer and Scanner Exploitation

    Employees can use office printers and scanners to create digital copies of sensitive documents. Once scanned, these documents can be emailed or saved to personal devices, bypassing digital security measures.

  13. Social Media Channels

    Social media platforms provide another avenue for data leakage. Employees can use direct messaging features on social media platforms to share sensitive information. Since corporate security often does not monitor these channels, they can be exploited for data exfiltration.

  14. Remote Desktop Protocols

    Employees with access to remote desktop software can connect to their work computers from home or other remote locations. If not properly secured, this access can be used to transfer sensitive data outside the corporate network.

  15. Screen Recording Software

    Employees may use unsanctioned screen recording apps to capture sensitive information, which could inadvertently expose confidential data.

The Rise of Remote Work: A New Frontier for Data Theft

The shift towards remote work, while offering flexibility and convenience, has also expanded the playing field for data theft. Away from the watchful eyes of IT departments and physical security measures, employees have more opportunities to circumvent security protocols using their personal devices. Whether it's snapping a quick photo of sensitive information, recording confidential meetings, or transferring files to unsecured personal cloud storage, the risks are amplified in remote settings where monitoring and control are inherently more challenging.

Addressing the Root Causes

Understanding why employees bypass security measures is crucial to finding effective solutions. Some common reasons include:

  • Inconvenience: Complex security measures can hinder productivity. Employees may seek workarounds to streamline their tasks.
  • Lack of Awareness: Employees may not fully understand the risks associated with their actions or the importance of security protocols.
  • Insufficient Training: If employees haven't received adequate training on security best practices, they may not know how to identify or respond to threats.
  • Outdated Policies: Security policies that are not updated regularly may not address the latest threats or technologies, leaving loopholes for employees to exploit.

Mitigating the Risks: A Multi-Layered Approach

While the human element presents a significant challenge to cybersecurity, it's not an insurmountable one. By understanding the subtle ways employees can bypass security measures, you can take proactive steps to address the risks.

  1. Implement Strong Access Controls

    Limiting access to sensitive information based on job roles is crucial. Applying the principle of least privilege ensures that employees only have access to the data necessary for their roles. Regularly review and update access controls to prevent unauthorized access.

  2. Monitor and Audit Activities

    Using monitoring tools to track user activities and detect anomalies can help identify potential threats. Regular audits can highlight unusual patterns and behaviors. Automated alerts can notify security teams of suspicious activities, enabling quick intervention. Consider deploying User and Entity Behavior Analytics (UEBA) solutions to identify unusual patterns.

  3. Regular and Relevant Employee Training

    Regular training sessions are essential to educate employees about cybersecurity best practices and the risks associated with bypassing security measures. Teach them how to recognize phishing attempts, handle sensitive data, and report suspicious activities. Creating a culture of security awareness can significantly reduce unintentional threats.

  4. Data Loss Prevention (DLP) Tools

    Implementing DLP tools to monitor and control the movement of sensitive data helps detect and prevent unauthorized transfers, both within and outside the organization.

  5. Clear and Concise Updated Policies

    Develop clear, concise, and up-to-date security policies that are easily accessible to all employees. Make sure these policies are regularly communicated and enforced.

  6. Mobile Device Management (MDM)

    MDM solutions can secure mobile devices used for work purposes. These tools enforce security policies, control app installations, and remotely wipe data if a device is lost or stolen. They also monitor for unusual activities, such as excessive use of screenshots or Bluetooth transfers.

  7. Develop a Robust Incident Response Plan

    A well-defined incident response plan ensures your team is prepared to act quickly and efficiently in the event of a security breach. Regularly update and test this plan to adapt to new threats and vulnerabilities.

  8. User-Friendly Security

    Design security measures that are easy to use and don't impede productivity. Implement single sign-on, password managers, and intuitive security tools that make it simple for employees to follow best practices.

  9. Positive Reinforcement

    Reward employees for reporting security concerns and following best practices. Create a culture where security is everyone's responsibility, and employees feel empowered to speak up if they see something amiss.

Leveraging Compliance Frameworks: A Foundation for Cybersecurity

Adhering to industry-specific compliance frameworks like SOC 2, HIPAA, NIST CSF, Publication 1075, and FISMA can help you establish a solid foundation for your cybersecurity program. These frameworks provide guidelines for implementing security controls that can mitigate the risk of insider threats, whether intentional or unintentional. Navigating the complexities of these compliance frameworks can be daunting, but experienced auditors can help you streamline the process and ensure your organization meets the necessary requirements.

The Role of Expert Guidance

Addressing insider threats requires specialized knowledge and expertise. At Audit Peak, our team specializes in SOC 2, HIPAA, NIST CSF, and other compliance frameworks. We offer tailored solutions to help you identify and mitigate insider threats, ensuring your business remains secure.

Time for Action

Don't wait for a security breach to expose the vulnerabilities in your organization. By understanding the subtle ways employees can bypass security measures, you can take proactive steps to address the risks and build a stronger security culture.

If you're ready to take your cybersecurity to the next level, contact Audit Peak today. Our team of experienced auditors can help you assess your current security posture, identify areas for improvement, and implement effective controls to protect your organization from the inside out. Together, we can build a security-conscious culture that empowers your employees to be your greatest asset in the fight against cybercrime.