Let's play IT security Buzzword Bingo

Exit doors

Many years ago I'd amuse myself by playing a game called Buzzword Bingo. Each week someone in my IT security professional network of friends would distribute a bingo card laid out with the most outrageous ITSec lingo of the time.

If a press release, research document or even telephone conversation with a client included any of those words, I'd cross them off. Prizes, generally beer-shaped ones, were awarded for four corners or a line.

If I were still playing today, I would be well on my way to a full house this week, having overheard phrases such as offboarding, deprovisioning, rogue access, exit interviews and user lifecycle management. Can you tell what I've been researching yet?

No, I'm not surprised. So let me help you by revealing all. The reason for this myriad of management speak is a report which looked at the threat to enterprise data from former employees.

The problem is one that could hit smaller businesses hardest, as they are less likely to have the same kind of rigorous controls in place when it comes to changing application logins.

According to the survey by Osterman Research (commissioned by hosting firm Intermedia), 89 per cent of employees retained access to applications such as PayPal and Salesforce after leaving an organisation, which was described by the Intermedia spokesperson who contacted me as "posing a big threat".

Well, you don't say? Furthermore, over half of those ex-employees actually logged in after leaving the firm.

Am I allowed to say WTF at this point? Seriously, it's enough to make me think there's almost no point being an IT security consultant any longer if enterprises are making this kind of rookie error. Of course, I say almost as I am kept in business courtesy of this ridiculous lack of secure thinking. What's really amazing is these organisations are going out of business for the same reason.

Offboarding may be a silly word, and one that sounds like it has something to do with spooks interviewing suspected terrorists, but it describes a very serious weapon in the enterprise security armoury: access revocation.

When the organisations questioned admitted the number of ex-employees retaining access to confidential information was 45 per cent, you get an idea of just how important an exit interview can be.

Yep, the admin guys should be revoking access rights as a matter of course, that goes without saying, but it does seem that a reminder to departing employees about the legality of popping back in for a nosey, or to store data, as 68 per cent were doing, might be in order as well.

The problem is one that could hit smaller businesses hardest, as they are less likely to have the same kind of rigorous controls in place when it comes to changing application logins.

Some 60 per cent of respondents said they were not asked for cloud logins when they left their companies. It's not like these people even have to be malicious to do damage, just storing something inappropriate on company servers could be enough.

C'mon people, get with the offboarding exit interview user lifecycle program. House!

Davey Winder

Davey is a three-decade veteran technology journalist specialising in cybersecurity and privacy matters and has been a Contributing Editor at PC Pro magazine since the first issue was published in 1994. He's also a Senior Contributor at Forbes, and co-founder of the Forbes Straight Talking Cyber video project that won the ‘Most Educational Content’ category at the 2021 European Cybersecurity Blogger Awards.

Davey has also picked up many other awards over the years, including the Security Serious ‘Cyber Writer of the Year’ title in 2020. As well as being the only three-time winner of the BT Security Journalist of the Year award (2006, 2008, 2010) Davey was also named BT Technology Journalist of the Year in 1996 for a forward-looking feature in PC Pro Magazine called ‘Threats to the Internet.’ In 2011 he was honoured with the Enigma Award for a lifetime contribution to IT security journalism which, thankfully, didn’t end his ongoing contributions - or his life for that matter.

You can follow Davey on Twitter @happygeek, or email him at davey@happygeek.com.