Trusted Insider cont.

Trusted Insider continued

Part 2 of 2 talking about the trusted Insider and how organisations can address the problems at an organisational level

In part 1 of this we talked about who are the trusted insiders, why organisations are concerned and what the motivations of the trusted insider are. Part1 is here – https://www.resilienceoutcomes.com/identity/trusted-insider/

In this part, we talk about some approaches to the trusted insider problem.

Organisations are asking “How can we stop employees becoming the next Edward Snowden?”

I think we should question is why aren’t there more people like Edward Snowden? I think it is worth noting that the NSA is huge with an unconfirmed staff count in the order of 30,000-40,000. One or even ten ‘rogue insiders’ is as a percentage very small – even though the damage to the USA and its allies has been very significant.

Organisations, including intelligence organisations, develop very rigorous and reliable procedures to ensure that people who shouldn’t be trusted don’t join their organisations. Good recruitment practices which exclude people who won’t fit and don’t let people become insiders in the first place are the best defence. However, one of the hardest issues to manage is to deal with people who gradually become disgruntled after they’ve been working in an organisation for a while.

Of course, organisations can use infosec procedures such as internal surveillance mechanisms and information compartmentalisation. These can reduce the consequences wrought by trusted insiders. However these mechanisms can inhibit the rest of the employee body from working at their full potential. It also can affect staff morale if not carefully marketed. Interestingly SIG attendees were told that the Attorney-General’s Department was considering the possibility of a continuous disclosure regime for security clearances which would in real or near real time provide information to security officials about whether employees were undertaking activities which might raise eyebrows.

A Sharing economy model?

Considering an organisational ‘sharing economy’ model when considering the trusted insider threat might help. The employee/employer relationship is one of mutual benefit. It can be also one of mutual harm.

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Employees work for their organisation and their identity becomes entwined in the reputation and identity of that organisation. As mentioned previously, the trusted insider that does the wrong thing by their organisation does so for a number of reasons. The most dangerous reason has always been those who are motivated not by money or greed, but by a grievance or revenge.

If we extrapolate using the NSA/Snowden example…. The NSA has built up an impressive reputation over many years for technical excellence. But maybe some of its employees believed the propaganda of their employer. More importantly, it would seem that NSA’s management failed to completely disabuse their employees of the fact that intelligence agencies live in a grey world and do things that are morally grey. Consequently people working inside the NSA seem to have been surprised when they found that some of the things it was doing were dark. Unfortunately for the NSA, brilliant people became disillusioned and turned against it.

This explanation is probably not the whole answer. However a couple of thoughts arise both of which may help to prevent future events:

  • is it possible to develop an internal organisational market for the reputation of the organisation?
  • A meaningful alternative chain of reporting to vent frustrations is vital.

A market of organisational reputation

Many private and public organisations organisations spend significant sums to monitor their public relations posture. There is benefit in understanding what the organisation thinks about itself as well.  An anonymous reporting mechanism can allow an organisation to get some information about whether it is ‘on the nose’. Such data might also be combined with metrics such as the number of relevant social media postings.

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An alternative chain of reporting

Both USA and Australia now have whistle-blower mechanisms for their intelligence services. In Australia, the Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security performs this role.

Many organisations both in the private and public sector could consider the benefits of taking on aspects of this system. It obviously doesn’t work perfectly, but it certainly contributes to the protection of the intelligence agencies from trusted insiders.

Mr Snowden has claimed that “he had raised alarms at multiple levels about the NSA’s broad collection of phone, email and Internet connections.” However, this is disputed by the USA. Whatever the truth of the matter, it seems that Snowden felt he wasn’t being listened to. So maybe the take-home from this aspect is that the ‘alternate chain’ of reporting needs to have big teeth to make changes where there are real problems identified. Balancing natural justice against the consequences of a breach is incredibly important. Not only for the individual concerned, but for the organisation itself, because you know people in organisations gossip about each other!

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This is of course a governance issue, and this makes it very tricky to get right – this is where Resilience Outcomes Australia can help your organisation, because resilience and longevity of organisations is what we do.

Further reading:

Managing the insider threat to your business – a personnel security handbook (PDF) from the Australian Attorney-General’s Department is a good place to start.

Australian IGIS – Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security – the reports are worth having a look at.

USA Department of Defense Whistleblower Program is part of the Office of the Inspector General of the US Department of Defense. One of the sub-programmes it runs is specifically for the US Intelligence Community.

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