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Employees to blame for 70% of corporate data breaches, with 20% resulting from malicious intent

June 2023 by Apricorn

UK security leaders believe that their organisation’s employees are continually exposing sensitive data to the risk of a breach, yet are neglecting to take the necessary steps to control the risks. This is according to annual research carried out by Apricorn, the leading manufacturer of software-free, 256-bit AES XTS hardware-encrypted USB drives, that found 70% of corporate breaches are a direct result of employee error or malicious intent.

Of the security decision makers surveyed, 22% said employees unintentionally putting data at risk had been the main cause of a data breach at their organisation, with staff being caught out by phishing emails close behind at 21%. Remote workers specifically had been the catalyst at 26% of organisations – up from 21% in 2022. Worryingly, 20% said employees with malicious intent had been behind a breach at their company, a rise from 10% last year. Third parties mishandling corporate information had caused a breach at 21%, up from 12%, highlighting the increasing need for tighter security in the supply chain.

48% of respondents admitted that their company’s mobile or remote workers have knowingly exposed data to a breach over the last year, a rise from 29% in 2022, while 46% stated that their remote workers “don’t care” about security, up from 17% the previous year.

This trend was echoed when the respondents were asked about the main problems they faced with implementing a cybersecurity plan for remote and mobile working. The biggest issue – which 28% are struggling with – is lack of awareness among employees of the risks to data when working away from the office. Also high on the list is the fact that staff who are aware of security risks will still take action that results in data being exposed or lost (23%).

Jon Fielding, Apricorn’s managing director EMEA, says: “Our research indicates businesses don’t trust their employees to live up to their responsibilities around protecting data. This is particularly the case when they’re working remotely. There appears to be a lack of buy-in, and in some cases a blatant disregard of the need to follow cybersecurity policies – perhaps as a result of employees becoming too relaxed over security. Organisations must rebuild a culture that ensures everyone has a security-first mindset, wherever they’re working.”

Despite awareness of the ‘insider threat’, companies are not applying the policy and technology measures necessary to prevent data being compromised – in particular when it comes to BYOD. Of those that allow employees to use their own IT equipment remotely, only 14% manage the risk by controlling access to systems and data using software, a drop from 41% in 2022. Nearly a quarter (24%) require employees to receive approval to use their own devices, but do not apply any controls, while 17% don’t require approval or apply any controls, a rise from 8% last year. 15% only allow corporate IT provisioned devices to be used, but have no way of enforcing this.

Jon Fielding says: “Decentralisation of IT may be behind the slip in control that security teams have over the endpoint. The employee technology platform is moving further and further away from the organisation, especially where people are using their own kit. While creating a great employee experience is important – and the flexibility and productivity gains are undeniable – it’s essential that security teams now pull on the reins and apply comprehensive measures to protect data. Without these, the situation is a ticking time bomb.”

The research was conducted by Censuswide with 201 security decision makers (manager level +) of large companies in the UK between 30.03.2023 – 06.04.2023. Censuswide abides by and employs members of the Market Research Society which is based on the ESOMAR principles and are members of The British Polling Council.

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