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He Who Holds the ‘Over-Privileged’ Ladder is as Bad as a Thief

Posted March 1, 2011    Peter McCalister

Last year in a survey conducted at VMWorld, we established that while some respondents were willing to wear a tutu ( or even cut off their arm) for $20 million, far more (35% of those polled) were willing to leak information to a competitor. So, what happens when insiders misuse their privilege?  Just ask Microsoft.

Arguably, former Microsoft employee Matt Miszewski is now a respondent in a recent motion filed against him for allegedly ‘retaining’ some 600 MBs of sensitive and proprietary data. When he left the company to take up a position at a MS rival Salesforce.com, he was motivated by considerably less- at least as far as his personal return was concerned. Obviously it’s too early to pass judgment on such a case, or suggest that ‘retaining information’ after leaving a company is just a posh way of saying stealing, but what we can do is comment on how MS discovered Matt’s supposed infraction.

Microsoft only discovered that the information had been taken as a result of due process in another, earlier case brought against Matt Miszewski. Mr. Miszewski had said he only took personal items with him when he left. Under discovery rules, the document cache stored on his laptop was produced. Simply put, this means that if they had not filed suit against Mr. Miszewski, they would have been unable to verify the ‘retention’ of the data.

If we are to take recent Symantec/Ponemon Institute research seriously- which indicates that 59 per cent of employees surveyed who lost or left a job in 2008 admitted to stealing confidential company information- then businesses should heed more attention to how they manage privileged access to sensitive data. Otherwise they could be accused of aiding and abetting the theft by relying on trust alone. As our title suggests, he who holds the ‘over-privileged’ ladder is as bad as a thief.

Whether via the desktop or from mission-critical servers, access to sensitive data needs to be managed on a needs-only basis. Employees get access based on the privileges they need to do their job, not how privileged (senior) they may be within the company.

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