5 Real Life Examples of Vulnerabilities in the Workplace

Our private data is one of our most precious resources, especially since federal institutions provide the most important data to identify citizens. We also maintain a large collection of private financial information that we use to engage in commerce and finance our lifestyles. 

While we might want to avoid giving this information to anyone, we are obligated to provide sensitive details to certain government agencies and large businesses so we can process transactions and complete federally mandated tasks (i.e., filing a tax return). Giving sensitive information to a reliable service provider or government agency is essential in purchasing products or filing official documents. 

Typically, we can rest assured that the agencies or stores we give our information to are secure and that employees will not abuse it. Unfortunately, the security of major databases is not absolute due to external attacks that threaten to access our data.

While these external threats (hackers, malware, etc.) are common issues for corporate and government databases, they are not always responsible for the breach. Whenever we think about cyberattacks, we imagine shady characters attempting to bypass firewalls with clever coding or malicious software. Unfortunately, sometimes these criminals do not have to expend that much effort since the protocols or employees within the company or agency might unwittingly compromise the network’s security. 

Internal vulnerabilities are more common than we realize and can endanger our private data when such errors go unaddressed. Some of these workplace vulnerabilities are more common than others, but all of them can damage the security of the company’s stored data.

Employees Working on Computers

#1: Insecure Network Access

We have all had tasks and assignments that take longer than the time allotted for a daily shift at work. Even professionals who work 8-hour days sometimes need more time to finish a critical task that cannot wait until the next day. 

As a result, some workers work overtime hours to continue working on the assignment or project (occasionally forgoing pay depending on their employer’s overtime policies). While operating within your office is acceptable for catching up on work, others choose to take their work home with them. The idea of spending more time at an office that is emptied out can be unpleasant or disturbing to certain people, so they try to work from the comfort of their homes. 

This is not inherently problematic, depending on the kind of work you do, but professionals who have to access sensitive information regularly are unintentionally endangering clients.

Secure Network Access

Office databases are usually accessed via Wireless Fidelity networks to give employees scattered around the building access to data without leaving their offices. Corporate Wireless Fidelity (Wi-Fi) networks are generally more secure since extra protections are used to prevent unauthorized access. 

For example, some companies tie the connection to their Wi-Fi to an employee identification card or other dual verification protocol. Others employ extremely complex passwords to minimize the odds of hacking. Almost all corporate Wi-Fi networks are isolated from other networks to minimize cross-access and protect the information stored in the local database (which some companies hardwire to specific machines or Wi-Fi networks). 

When you go home, your Wi-Fi is considerably less secure than the office Wi-Fi you use at work and is more likely to get hacked. Any data access you perform through your home network can be intercepted and observed by a skilled cybercriminal. It also allows them to sneak malware onto the connected device if they have the proper tools. 

While some home networks are encrypted, the biggest threat is accessing sensitive information on a public network (i.e., Starbucks or hotels). While working from home can be accomplished, wirelessly accessing sensitive information from unencrypted or insecure networks can compromise its safety.

#2: Weak Passwords

Most employees for companies that handle sensitive information are required to have a password they use to access their work terminals and files. These passwords are initially a mix of random letters and numbers that the employee later customizes to their preference. 

The problem is that creating a password is meant to be secure, but managing several passwords for professional and private purposes can be a hassle. As a result, many people rework a single password to function for multiple profiles, occasionally adding an extra character to distinguish it from the version used for a different program. 

A Weak Password

According to a survey conducted by Google, around 65% of people reuse passwords for multiple websites, programs, and devices. While this makes it easier to remember your password, it also makes it easier for cybercriminals to guess what it is. As a result, cybercriminals can access your profiles and peruse the information stored within them.

Additionally, the average American uses passwords of 8 to 11 characters long, which is considered average, according to security experts. The ideal password length has 14 to 16 characters that combine letters, numbers, and symbols to prevent easy hacking. While most people have gotten used to combining numbers and symbols with their passwords, a large portion of the country still uses simple words to make accessing their data and devices fast and easy. 

Once again, this practice values convenience over security and increases the risk of a cyberattack successfully bypassing password security.

#3: Password Sharing

Similar to the previous example, there is another major mistake a corporate employee can make concerning their passwords. You could have the most powerful password possible, but it will mean nothing if you are guilty of sharing it with co-workers or family members. 

Passwords are designed to protect an individual user’s privacy, but several programs and tools are popular enough that people are tempted to share their passwords with family members. While this is appropriate for entertainment or utility programs (i.e., Netflix or Microsoft Word), it can seriously affect sensitive databases. 

It is not unheard of for employees of companies that handle sensitive information to share passwords for certain devices and programs used in their industry. For example, one employee might give a co-worker the password to their work terminal to access a program or document needed to complete a task. However, the more people who know the password, the less secure it becomes since it can spiral into a cycle of sharing that turns what is supposed to be a private code into public knowledge. 

Sharing a Password

As much as we might not want to admit it, not all of our co-workers are honest and might try to use someone else’s password to profit from the data it protects.

Sharing the password to a terminal to help a co-worker whose terminal is malfunctioning can appear harmless, but there are situations where it allows them to access information above their pay grade. For example, if the head of the financial department allows a customer service representative to borrow their device, that worker has access to all the payment data the former handles. 

This means a less trustworthy employee might take advantage of the data, which the company is responsible for protecting, for personal gain. While this might not always occur, it is best to ensure any terminal an employee from another department accesses does not have this data. Furthermore, a password that gets spread around may be overheard by someone outside the company, especially if it is used from an insecure Wi-Fi network.

#4: No Network Partitioning

While the workers accessing a network might make crucial mistakes, one of the worst offenses is a mistake made by the people in charge of the company. It falls to the leaders to ensure that information is as secure as possible through whatever available means. Most companies use network databases to store critical information that can be accessed remotely by the appropriate employees. 

This level of convenience can radically enhance productivity and reduce lost time by preventing employees from having to leave their offices to access important files. The convenience of remote databases is one of the few considered safe by all standards, but there is a crucial caveat. These wireless databases must be secured against potential breaches and unauthorized access. Most databases are partitioned to keep data separate, allowing companies to save the rest in case of a breach. 

When a cybercriminal successfully infiltrates a network database, they have to start within one of the partitions. Assuming the breach is detected in time, the rest of the database can be disconnected, preventing the cybercriminal from accessing more data. That said, partitioning also protects information from within by minimizing the number of employees accessing it. 

Workplace Network Partitioning

If you store a large amount of financial data in your network, there is no reason anyone outside your financial and management departments should access it. Proper partitioning allows the company to establish permissions for its employees, allowing them to access the data pertinent to their job without compromising data integrity beyond their purview. Unfortunately, some companies neglect this process and leave all the data within a single database that any employee can access.

While this might be easier, it allows employees without proper authorization to access sensitive data. The less savory employees might use that access to increase their financial status.

#5: Reckless Browsing

Sometimes, employees finish working early and have no tasks left to perform. It is a common scenario usually enjoyed by the employee and loathed by the employer. Unfortunately, their efficiency tends to generate boredom since they have little else to do and time to kill until a new task arises or their shift ends. In companies where employees typically have privacy and a computer, many try to alleviate their boredom by browsing the internet. 

While they will try to avoid letting their supervisors catch on, they might visit websites that house harmful programs disguised as downloads. While most companies have rules about how their employees use their computers, there will always be people who ignore them. Some employees might use their computers or mobile devices to access unsavory websites in their downtime, which could open the door for harmful programs to piggyback off their connection to the corporate Wi-Fi.

Employee Browsing the Internet

Corporate Wi-Fi networks are typically encrypted, making it virtually impossible for harmful programs or software to access the network without human intervention. This could include someone hacking the firewall and depositing the program into the network or because an employee clicked something they should not have. 

For example, many scam e-mails are sent en masse to several addresses to try and get someone to click on the link within. These links typically contain malware that downloads itself to the device and works its way into the main network. Additionally, sometimes the websites they visit can insert malicious code into their devices, with several scam sites automatically starting a download as soon as they click the link.

Fortunately, most companies do not rely on the employees to show restraint insofar as browsing the internet in their downtime is concerned. There are programs that many businesses use that limit the URLs a computer on their network can access. This prevents employees from visiting potentially harmful websites and accidentally installing malware.

Technically Speaking…

Companies are more vulnerable than they realize, especially as cybercriminals adapt their tactics to counteract modern security protocols. The biggest problem is that all the cybersecurity protocols in the world are ultimately rendered useless when an employee opens the door for a malicious program. Alternatively, sometimes the employee is trying to exploit a vulnerability for personal gain. 

A combination of cybersecurity and strict conduct protocols is the only way to reduce the risk of infiltration to an acceptable percentage. The problem is that not every company has the resources to create an in-house department to enforce those protocols or shore up their cybersecurity defenses.

A Secure Workplace Computer

We at U.S. Cybersecurity understand the importance of an effective cybersecurity plan and the need for employee protocols regarding network security. We specialize in creating protocols tailored to a company’s needs while creating top-tier security tools for the network. We also offer vulnerability testing services to prevent any weaknesses in the firewall from giving cybercriminals access. There are no shortcuts in cybersecurity, so we urge you to visit our website and peruse our services. We are standing by and ready to assist you.

Herman McCargo

Herman is a Microsoft Certified Security Engineer and Cybersecurity Specialist. He’s been in the technology field for over 20 years and has expertise working with the most critical technology infrastructures. He has a deep understanding of cyber risks, threat mitigation and prevention, and overseeing infrastructure.