The revelations stemming from the documents exfiltrated by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden have changed the way we look at many things, but the details that have been trickling out about the way he went about getting access to those documents have also shown us how serious the insider threat can be.
According to a report by Reuters based on disclosures from unnamed sources within the government, Snowden misused his status as a systems administrator to convince 20 to 25 NSA employees and his colleagues at the NSA regional operations center in Hawaii to hand over their login details for internal agency systems and networks.
It is reported that “a handful” of these employees have already been identified and questioned about it, then removed from their jobs – whether temporary or permanently is yet unknown.
The internal NSA investigation aimed at discovering which documents Snowden got his hands on is still ongoing, as he often covered up the electronic traces created by his incursions.
This latest revelation proves just how dangerous is having employees share their passwords with other co-workers – in government organizations as well as companies in the private sector.
Despite the fact that this practice is usually forbidden by corporate / organization policy, employees often don’t consider (or are even aware of) the problems that might arise from breaking that rule, especially when it comes to sharing login credentials to privileged accounts.
But, as Snowden has proven, even employees of an intelligence agency who were likely both tech savvy and have been briefed many times on the danger of sharing their passwords have ultimately decided to do so.
Part of it is probably that Snowden was able to convince them that it was ok for them to hand over their passwords because of the position he occupied in the organization, and part of it is that, once one passes all the tests required to work there and has been successfully vetted to do so, one becomes an effectively trusted insider.