Is total IT security possible?

A participant at one of my presentations this year requested I tell them how to achieve, verbatim, “Total protection from employees able to reach or steal client data from work or home.”

Let’s see—the only way I can think of is to never share any client data with your employees—ever. Even without computers, if an employee is privy to client data, they may “steal” that and use it for other purposes.

The goal is to protect private client data—and you may choose to never enter that into a computer system your employees can access—or never enter it into a computer at all.

If your employees do want to access client data, and you just do not want the employees to be able to easily take large amounts of information, the challenges increase dramatically. Even so, the possibilities are closer than you may realize. Thanks to application delivery and virtualization technologies, you can allow employees to work from home, or the office, without having information stay resident on their computer. You can also restrict them from being able to:

  • Save to a local drive
  • Print information
  • Copy and paste outside your protected space
  • Or otherwise retain any information

However, there is little to stop an e-savvy employee from using a digital camera to take a screenshot, or using a yellow sticky note to write down someone’s credit card information or social security number. At least these kinds of activities take “time,” so you are restricting the speed of stealing data.

For what technology cannot solve, your corporate legal advisors can step in. They can help you with non-disclosure agreements, acceptable usage policies, and other agreements for your workers to sign. The key point here is that these do not necessarily prevent the theft, but they do provide you some recourse if the employee is ever caught.

There is even IT data security insurance. If your insurance provider does not offer this service, or if you want to shop around, I know someone who does offer IT security insurance.

In some organizations, prevention is crucial. Once the data gets out, the organization may be damaged beyond repair.

To prevent an employee from e-mailing themselves a client list, there are Data Loss Prevention DLP tools available in the world. They watch for suspicious behavior and can quarantine such messages before sending them out. That delay gives the responsible person in your organization the opportunity to stop the data before it leaves.

There are other strategies as well:

  • Provide people with only the information they need to know. A good book full of these examples is Blind Man’s Bluff: The Untold Story of American Submarine Espionage by Sherry Sontag and Christopher Drew.
  • Rotate employees through specific duties so their time to do harm is limited.
  • Force employees to take mandatory vacations during which time illegal behaviors may be detected.
  • Have a separation of duties such that it would be difficult for one employee to commit fraud all by themselves.

While “total protection” may result in your employees not being able to function, there are strategies that can provide you with both productivity and security.

Please post your comments on the blog.


2 Comments

  • Karen July 15, 2010 at 5:23 am - Reply

    Mike, Great article! The method we employ is first doing a criminal records background check on all employees. In addition we have a strong system of separation of duties. AND we have a strong, ethical culture here. I realize many people say that about their organizations, but it is a top-down message here and one that is regularly reinforced.

    • Mike Foster July 15, 2010 at 6:02 am - Reply

      Thank you for your comment Karen! Your culture is very strong, and you help a lot of people. With access to their private information – great job on being such a diligent custodian! And it is your clients who benefit. If everyone is super careful, there wouldn’t be a need for the laws and regulations.

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