You may not realize it yet, but we’re living through the latest zeitgeist. It’s the Great Resignation. You may have heard it being tossed around the media or witnessed it firsthand, or even been a part yourself. Either way, it’s happening across the United States. And it affects data security as much as it affects the employment rate.

Waves of employees are quitting their jobs as more people get the COVID-19 vaccine in the United States. Others consider changing their jobs in the future. In fact, 4 million people quit their jobs in April 2021 alone.

What Is the Great Resignation?

The Great Resignation appears to be caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. As we know, the pandemic brought on a major shift to remote work. This led to a blending of work and personal life. The change was jarring for many, but eye-opening for others. Employees have spoken out about the benefits of remote work. Those can range from child and pet care to saving money on their commute to increased happiness. The stay-at-home orders left people with a lot of time to reflect on their job satisfaction and personal goals. Overall, people are putting their personal lives before work.

As vaccines reduced the spread of the virus, companies began discussing and proposing a return to the office. This further catalyzed the wave of departures as employees did not want to return or simply were taking advantage of the hot hiring market and many job openings.

What Does This Mean for Data Security?

Now that people are leaving their jobs in waves, let’s address something that may not come to mind right away  — the data security risk this trend poses.

How do we safely offboard an employee?

Identity and Access

One area to consider relates to identity and access management, specifically, identity governance and administration. Waves of employees leaving at once can overwhelm IT and security teams. Each of those people needs to be offboarded. That entails taking inventory on all the systems an employee has access to. Then, before the employee’s departure, teams need to wipe the employee’s digital presence and end access to a myriad of things. Those can include intellectual property, sensitive company data, tools, apps and even consumer personal information. The worst possible outcome would be if an employee’s access slips through the cracks. After all, that can evolve into an insider threat or full-on breach.

One area of concern is privileged access management. Consider a departing employee who has special access to the crown jewels. Maybe they are an IT director or even a chief information security officer (CISO). These employees pose as an even greater risk and require a thorough offboarding.

Endpoint Data Security

Consider the hardware. Company-owned endpoints must be returned and access to company applications on personal devices needs to be shut down. This takes more work than you might think (think shipping, deadlines and arranging returns).

Data Migration

What about all the critical data relevant to specific employees? Employees who are integral to certain business processes may host data in cloud and software-as-a-service environments. That employee might move on, but the company doesn’t want to lose access to important accounts. So, they must migrate data from that user’s account to another company platform. This is a complex process, so often times companies just continue paying for that user’s account. Multiplied by tens or hundreds of employees, that can add up.

What’s the Point?

Cybersecurity concerns, like those that come with employees leaving a job, exist all around us. Security needs to be considered in almost every business, institution or government action. Leaders need to stop and take a moment to ask, “What data security concerns does this pose?” It’s always better to be safe than sorry.

Special thanks to Marc von Mandel for contributing IAM expertise to this article.

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