Monitoring employee behavior in digital environments is on the rise, with 60 percent of corporations expected to implement formal programs for monitoring external social media for security breaches and incidents by 2015, according to Gartner.
Many organizations already engage in social media monitoring as part of brand management and marketing, but less than 10 percent of organizations currently use these same techniques as part of their security monitoring program.
“The growth in monitoring employee behavior in digital environments is increasingly enabled by new technology and services,” said Andrew Walls, research vice president of Gartner. “Surveillance of individuals, however, can both mitigate and create risk, which must be managed carefully to comply with ethical and legal standards.”
To prevent, detect and remediate security incidents, IT security organizations have traditionally focused attention on the monitoring of internal infrastructure. The impact of IT consumerization, cloud services and social media renders this traditional approach inadequate for guiding decisions regarding the security of enterprise information and work processes.
“Security monitoring and surveillance must follow enterprise information assets and work processes into whichever technical environments are used by employees to execute work,” said Mr. Walls. “Given that employees with legitimate access to enterprise information assets are involved in most security violations, security monitoring must focus on employee actions and behavior wherever the employees pursue business-related interactions on digital systems. In other words, the development of effective security intelligence and control depends on the ability to capture and analyze user actions that take place inside and outside of the enterprise IT environment.”
The popularity of consumer cloud services, such as Facebook, YouTube and LinkedIn, provides new targets for security monitoring, but surveillance of user activity in these services generates additional ethical and legal risks. There are times when the information available can assist in risk mitigation for an organization, such as employees posting videos of inappropriate activities within corporate facilities.
However, there are other times when accessing the information can generate serious liabilities, such as a manager reviewing an employee’s Facebook profile to determine the employee’s religion or sexual orientation in violation of equal employment opportunity and privacy regulations.
“The conflicts involved were highlighted through recent examples of a small number of organizations requesting Facebook login information from job candidates,” said Mr. Walls. “Although that particular practice will gradually fade, employers will continue to pursue greater visibility of social media conversations held by employees, customers and the general public when the topics are of interest to the corporation.”
A wide range of products and services have emerged to support these actions and many public relations firms provide social media monitoring as a standard client service. Security organizations are beginning to see value in the capture and analysis of social media content, not just for internal security surveillance, but also to enable detection of shifting threats that impinge on the organization. This might be physical threats to facilities and personnel revealed through postings concerning civil unrest or it may be threats of logical attacks by hacktivists. Early detection of shifting risks enables the organization to vary its security posture to match and minimize negative impacts.
“The problem lies in the ability of surveillance tools and methods to produce large volumes of irrelevant information,” said Mr. Walls. “This personal information can be exposed accidentally or become the target of voyeuristic behavior by security staff.”
There are a number of important issues that also need to be considered. While automated, covert monitoring of computer use by staff suspected of serious policy violations can produce hard evidence of inappropriate or illegal behaviors, and guide management response, it might also violate privacy laws.
In addition, user awareness of focused monitoring can be a deterrent for illicit behavior, but surveillance activities may be seen as a violation of legislation, regulations, policies or cultural expectations. There are also various laws in multiple countries that restrict the legality of interception of communications or covert monitoring of human activity.