Companies are trying to get better at spotting rogue or unstable employees who could put money, data or co-workers at risk.
Of course, most employers would prefer not to hire such people in the first place, but after a rash of cybersecurity breaches and an FBI warning that disgruntled or ex-employees could “pose a significant cyber threat,” bosses are stepping up screening and using new technology to root out any bad apples.
Employees can turn into liabilities for corporations in many ways: by insider trading, inflating expense reports or payroll logs, bribing, extorting or simply being unproductive. As data breaches have become commonplace, security companies have cropped up to help organizations monitor employees’ network behavior and identify risky activity.
Analyzing employees’ computer behavior is the latest step in a growing trend to weed out rotten candidates. Workplace personality testing is a $500 million-a-year business, in part to flag candidates or workers who exhibit psychopathic traits, like a willingness to overstep others for personal gain or threaten colleagues, or disloyalty and a lack of empathy. The added tech efforts might be worth it: Cyber threats from employees, which can range from stealing data or software to jamming company websites, can cost organizations from $5,000 to $3 million, according to the FBI.
“For the first time, we’re seeing businesses, especially on the commercial side, put line-items on their cybersecurity budget for insider threats,” says Chris Kauffman, founder and CEO of Personam Inc., a McLean, Va.-based insider threat prevention company whose clients include financial services firms, law firms, and health-care companies. “They’re very well aware of the insider threat and they’re very worried about it.”
Personam develops behavior profiles for employees. Using the activity of employees in similar job functions as a baseline, algorithms hunt for people who might be spending unwarranted time in a database, working odd hours without authorization or downloading old data.
“Criminal insiders, they won’t completely shift over to illegal activity. They’ll continue doing their jobs,” Kauffman says. “The technology was built to detect those subtle shifts in their behaviors, or the differences between them and people they work closely with.”
Employees who are insider threats don’t usually start off that way. In most cases, people don’t look for a job with the intent to steal from the company, experts say. The criminal activity begins months or several years later, triggered by a life-altering event, like being passed up for a promotion or publicly berated by a boss.
David Bernstein, president of Forensic Consultants LLC, consults for about 100 businesses yearly, from hedge funds to biotech companies. He works with them during the hiring process to identify people with psychopathic tendencies who could later turn into insider traders or saboteurs. They look for character traits like a lack of loyalty, little empathy and a penchant for being manipulative, signs that someone might have the mental disorder that makes them more likely to breach ethical boundaries.
“They see opportunity when most people see chaos,” he says.
The traditional risks associated with hiring a psychopath — that he or she could jeopardize co-workers or engage in illegal activity that puts an organization in legal trouble — now include the fear of computer hacking.
“Everyone has a cyber presence now,” Bernstein says. And cyber criminals and employees who purposefully sabotage a company are mercenary. “They’re not really caring about the company. There’s no loyalty.”
The FBI recommends employers regularly review what access employees have and eliminate access to systems people don’t need for their jobs. The alert also says to keep third-party vendors in the loop, restrict Internet access on corporate computers and to ban the reuse of passwords.
This article originally appeared on MarketWatch.com and is reprinted by permission from Marketwatch.com, ©2014 Dow Jones & Co. Inc. All rights reserved.