How to Handle Internal Security Problems in Your Business

Larry Alton

July 26, 2020

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Most businesses have security policies in place to protect them from external threats, like cybercriminals or would-be burglars. These external threats are important to guard against, and they take up the biggest portion of most security budgets. But what about internal threats?

Too many business owners and cybersecurity professionals neglect or underestimate the possibility of internal threats.

Types of Internal Threats

Let's examine some of the most common types of internal threats:

Physical theft. If your business sells physical goods, you'll need to worry about physical theft; this is especially true for lucrative businesses like cannabis grow room operations. An employee who understands how your business operates will be able to sneak products (or even cash) out for their own personal gain. Of course, this can also happen in an office environment, as employees can walk away with stolen technology.

Data theft. In the digital age, it's even more common for employees to steal data. They may lift a customer's credit card number for their own personal use, or may sell important company data to a competitor.

Sabotage. In some cases, a disgruntled employee may feel inclined to sabotage your systems. They may intentionally change settings or delete files with the intent of preventing the company from operating normally, or resulting in catastrophic losses. If left unguarded, even a small infiltration can be devastating.

Espionage. In bigger companies, corporate espionage also becomes a problem. An employee may be secretly working for one of your competitors, providing them with inside information they can use to outcompete you in the future.

How to Protect Against Internal Threats
Fortunately, there are several strategies that can help you protect your business against internal threats like these:

Thorough policies and procedures. Your first line of defense is having clear policies and procedures in place. Too many companies have lax security policies, with ambiguous or easily exploited security standards. Instead, take the time to document all the best practices and procedures your employees should follow, including potential disciplinary action for employees who don't follow them.

Better hiring and screening. You can greatly improve your internal security by conducting more thorough hiring and employee screening, as some employees will be a bigger threat than others – and some will have more security experience than others. For example, has this employee ever worked for a competitor in the past? Have they ever been accused of workplace theft? What do their past employers have to say about them? You won't be able to catch all internal threats this way, but it can help.

Monitoring. This should be a given, but if you're concerned about internal threats, you need to have multiple forms of employee monitoring in place. If you're running a physical, brick-and-mortar business, you'll want to have cameras that monitor employee activities at all times. Otherwise, you may want to install monitoring software on business devices that your employees are using regularly. Are they following proper security protocols? Are they engaging in any suspicious activity?

Cross-departmental security. Many business owners try to silo their security efforts into a single department. But while it's a good idea to have a designated security department in place, most of your security standards should be applied across all your departments. Make sure your employees, regardless of department or skill set, all recognize the most important security practices to follow, and keep them alert enough to recognize suspicious activity when they see it.

Limited access. You can improve security tremendously by limiting employee access to physical areas and to certain systems. As a simple example, make sure to limit the number of employees who know the combination to your onsite physical safe; this is a no-brainer. But the philosophy should also apply to your online systems; don't give employees access to data or systems that they don't routinely need as part of their jobs.

Data deletion. Sensitive data, whether it's your company's data or data related to your customers, should be deleted when it's no longer needed. If you continue to hold information like credit card numbers or social security numbers beyond their original utility, it could represent a massive vulnerability.

Testing and analysis. Finally, take the time to test the integrity of your internal security systems and policies. Stage an attack; are you able to get through? Pretend like you're an employee and try to get access to sensitive data; are you able to do it? Analyze your results and improve.

No security strategy is perfect, so remain vigilant. Always remain on the lookout for vulnerabilities, and new ways for your internal security policies to improve. Gradually, you'll continue to make your organization safer – and protect it from unscrupulous or ignorant employees.

Opinions expressed by the author are not necessarily those of WITI.

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