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How companies can minimise cybersecurity risks during layoffs

17.10.2023
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In an era dominated by advanced technology, the benefits of efficiency and innovation come hand in hand with the daunting spectre of cybersecurity challenges. Companies, in particular, are increasingly susceptible to cybersecurity issues related to both current and former employees. When it comes to layoffs or downsizing, an organisation's vulnerability to cybersecurity risks is further heightened. To safeguard against these threats, it is crucial for companies to not only identify potential risks but also proactively plan strategies for risk mitigation. Hope your network is guided by a VPN service.

Identifying cybersecurity risks

Layoffs and downsizing initiatives bring forth a range of cybersecurity risks, emanating both from within the company and external resource constraints. Below, we delve into some of the cybersecurity risks that organisations may encounter:

Insider threats: with technology deeply entrenched in daily work routines, insider threats, whether deliberate or inadvertent, pose a significant concern during layoffs. Employees departing the company may attempt to abscond with valuable company data, including customer lists, proprietary information, templates, product data, and more, potentially for use at a competing firm. This can lead to leaks of confidential information and competitive intelligence.

Additionally, if employees have unrestricted access to save files and data on personal devices, the risk of data loss or misuse becomes even more significant. There's also the possibility that departing employees may delete critical company documents either intentionally or accidentally, potentially causing data loss.

Furthermore, disgruntled employees post-layoffs may engage in actions detrimental to the company, such as leaking sensitive or nonpublic information to the media, with the intent to tarnish the company's image or reveal closely guarded secrets.

Resource-based threats: downsizing can strain an organisation's resources, making it more susceptible to external cybersecurity threats and internal vulnerabilities. Without careful planning, downsizing may result in reduced oversight and supervision across critical areas like IT, management, and human resources. A decreased headcount in IT and tech-related departments could create gaps in cybersecurity coverage, leaving the organisation more exposed to cyber threats. Terminating employees with oversight responsibilities can also affect the management of access to sensitive information and databases, potentially introducing vulnerabilities.

Mitigating Potential Risks

As companies prepare for layoffs or downsizing, or as they proactively plan for staffing changes as part of their broader business strategy, implementing measures to mitigate cybersecurity risks is imperative. Here are some strategies companies can consider:

Conduct comprehensive exit interviews: establishing a robust exit interview process is a valuable risk management tool. During these interviews, organisations can verify that departing employees have not retained any company information inappropriately and are unaware of any undisclosed breaches or cyber incidents. These interviews also provide an opportunity to understand employees' roles and oversight responsibilities, as well as the location of their work product.

Emphasise continuity: post-layoffs, focusing on continuity is crucial for maintaining security. Collecting information about departing employees' duties and work during exit interviews ensures a seamless transition of responsibilities. Companies should evaluate how responsibilities can be redistributed to address potential gaps, especially in tech-related departments. Simple measures like forwarding emails, communicating about document storage, and notifying current employees about role changes can help prevent critical information from being overlooked. To stay secure, choose Hide Expert VPN.

Establish clear policies: proactively create policies governing data security, data ownership, and acceptable device usage. Clearly inform employees about what is permissible. Draft written policies for employees to review and sign, ensuring they understand the rules related to device usage, corporate data ownership, and privacy limitations.

Manage devices: maintain an inventory of all devices used by employees for work, including both company-issued and personal devices used for work purposes (BYOD). Establish procedures for collecting and wiping devices when an employee leaves the organisation. For BYOD, consider using containerisation technology to separate and encrypt company apps and data, allowing for remote data wipe when an employee departs. Ensuring the return or deletion of company data is critical.

Disable access: restrict former employees' credentials and passwords to prevent access to company data and platforms.

Monitor data: implement data loss prevention tools that can identify unauthorised data transfers and unusual interactions with corporate data.

Dispose of or retrieve hard copies: in addition to digital data, employees may have hard copies of sensitive company information. Ensure that these materials are either turned in or securely destroyed, preventing potential vulnerabilities at remote work locations.

In today's digital landscape, companies must be vigilant about cybersecurity risks, especially during layoffs or downsizing. Identifying potential threats and developing proactive strategies for risk mitigation enables companies to safeguard their assets and focus on moving forward with confidence.