Hackers get all the attention, but they’re just one actor in the show. In truth, even well-intentioned employees are your biggest threat because they open the door and turn the lights on for the hackers. And while IT can implement tools and procedures designed to safeguard confidential information, it’s really everyone’s job to protect your bank’s data. A robust defensive strategy starts with a culture of data security, and if a system is only as strong as its weakest link, you need to look for ways your organization can build an environment full of sturdy links.
Educated employees are the basis of a strong protection system, so start off by giving them the knowledge they need to spot potential security problems. Things like phishing e-mails are a good place to begin (remember that rich Nigerian prince?) because they provide a way into your network that bypasses many of the security measures that are in place. Train everyone in your organization to detect and deal with suspicious e-mails, links and attachments. Stay abreast of new threats and communicate proactively to employees on how to react to them. We can’t expect employees to know what we don’t communicate to them.
Mobile devices (particularly those that are personally owned) also have the potential to create security gaps. Malware is being developed for smartphones and tablets at an alarming rate, making these devices fertile ground for the nastiest of viruses. Work with employees to help them choose and use robust antivirus software, and educate them on the need for a strong password on their device. You may also opt to use a mobile device management platform that enforces security policies, which can greatly limit your exposure by only allowing approved applications. But, links in mobile web browsers can still be used against you, so training and communication with your employees is even more important.
Public Wi-Fi networks are another area where employees may be operating without enough information about potential security dangers. Most employees do not know that any information they send unencrypted over a hotel Wi-Fi connection can be seen by anyone else on the hotel’s network. Consider creating a Wi-Fi FAQ that explains to all employees with mobile devices how to use their laptop in the airport and coffee shop without opening up sensitive data to prying eyes.
Even a simple device like a USB drive can be a dangerous tool in the hands of a cyber criminal. Vulnerability assessment testers often dropped flash drives in the parking lot or other public areas to see what employees do with them. The result? The vast majority of employees pick them up and plug them into corporate computers with remarkable reliability. To paraphrase my mother: “You don’t know where that flash drive has been!” Employees often don’t understand that a USB drive could contain malware that auto-launches as soon as the device connects to your network. This has the potential to cause your bank considerable grief, and though it may be difficult to lock down all USB devices, an educated employee will be less eager to introduce a rogue flash drive into your bank’s network.
When an employee leaves the company, another security flag should go up. Be sure your IT team is diligent in locking down access, removing accounts, and disabling login credentials as soon as an individual is no longer an employee. This holds true for contractors and temps, too, whose access should be removed as soon as their work with the company is finished.
This company-wide data security mindset doesn’t happen in a vacuum, and it’s crucial that all groups in the bank partner up to make it a reality. Human Resources must coordinate with IT when an individual joins the company, moves to a new role or department, or leaves. Supervisors need to commit to making time for employees to receive training and regular refreshers. It’s crucial that the leadership team is on board and committed to the effort, so that employees hear the same data security message from the top down. And communication lines must stay open at all levels.
Finally, it is important that training and communication are not limited to “new hire” training and posting on the Intranet. Employees can’t be expected to recall every detail of the hours and reams of information given to them when they are new and nervous. And, posting something on the Intranet is not “communicating.” Communicate frequently, clearly and in a manner that will be of interest to the employee if you want your security training and awareness program to be effective.
Deena Coffman is chief operation officer for IDT911 Consulting and Information Security Officer for IDentity Theft 911.