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61% of CIOs believe employees leak data maliciously

26 Mar 2019

Significant data breaches seem to happen on almost a weekly basis – and those are just the publicised ones.

Given the bulk of these breaches can be put down to human error, Egress conducted a survey (Insider Data Breach) to examine the root causes of employee-driven data breaches, their frequency, and impact.

The research was carried out by independent research organisation Opinion Matters and incorporated the views of more than 250 US and UK-based IT leaders (CIOs, CTOs, CISOs, and IT directors), and over 2000 US and UK-based employees.

One of the starkest findings was the significant chasm between IT leaders and employees over data security and ownership, effectively undermining any attempts to stem the growing tide of insider breach incidents.

This is a major challenge for businesses, as insider data breaches are viewed as frequent and damaging occurrences, of concern to 95% of IT leaders, yet the vectors for those breaches – employees – are either unaware of, or unwilling to admit, their responsibility.

Some of the key findings included:

  • 79% of IT leaders believe that employees have put company data at risk accidentally in the last 12 months. 61% believe they have done so maliciously.
  • 30% of IT leaders believe that data is being leaked to harm the organisation. 28% believe that employees leak data for financial gain.
  • 92% of employees say they haven’t accidentally broken company data sharing policy in the last 12 months; 91% say they haven’t done so intentionally.
  • 60% of IT leaders believe that they will suffer an accidental insider breach in the next 12 months; 46% believe they will suffer a malicious insider breach.
  • 23% of employees who intentionally shared company data took it with them to a new job.
  • 29% of employees believe they have ownership of the data they have worked on.
  • 55% of employees that intentionally shared data against company rules said their organisation didn’t provide them with the tools needed to share sensitive information securely.

In terms of the root causes of insider breaches, IT leaders were most likely to say that employee carelessness through rushing and making mistakes was the reason (60%), followed by a general lack of awareness (44%), and a lack of training on the company’s security tools (36%).

And then of course, there are the more malicious breaches with 30% believing data is being leaked to harm the organisation, while 28% say that employees leak data for financial gain.

From the employee perspective, of those who had accidentally shared data, almost half (48%) said they had been rushing, 30% blamed a high-pressure working environment and 29% said it happened because they were tired.

The most frequently cited employee error was accidentally sending data to the wrong person (45%), while 27% had been caught out by phishing emails. Interestingly, more than a third of employees (35%) were simply unaware that information should not be shared.

“The results of the survey emphasise a growing disconnect between IT leaders and staff on data security, which ultimately puts everyone at risk. While IT leaders seem to expect employees to put data at risk – they’re not providing the tools and training required to stop the data breach from happening,” says Egress CEO and co-founder Tony Pepper.

“Technology needs to be part of the solution. By implementing security solutions that are easy to use and work within the daily flow of how data is shared, combined with advanced AI that prevents data from being leaked, IT leaders can move from minimising data breaches to stopping them from happening in the first place.”

The survey also highlighted significant confusion around data ownership and ethics, with 60% of employee respondents not recognising that the organisation is the exclusive owner of company data.

“As the quantity of unstructured data and variety of ways to share it continue to grow exponentially, the number of insider breaches will keep rising unless the gulf between IT leaders and employee perceptions of data protection is closed. Employees don’t understand what constitutes acceptable behaviour around data sharing and are not confident that they have the tools to work effectively with sensitive information,” says Pepper.

“The results of this research show that reducing the risk of insider breaches requires a multi-faceted approach combining user education, policies and technology to support users to work safely and responsibly with company data.”

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