Insider threats

Betrayal: it’s one of the oldest plot lines there is. From Judas Iscariot to Edward Snowden, there will always be those inside the company who betray the company. They may do it for any one of a range of reasons: greed, vindictiveness, a personal code of ethics, fun, fame, or a combination of those. They are the employees who gather information, steal it, share it, sell it for nefarious purposes.

They are the insider threats that won’t go away. In fact, Quartz contributor Olivia Goldhill reports that “a recent study by Intel Security found that internal employees were behind 43% of data breaches.” And so the palace guards remain wary, and means to identify the turncoats and stop them before they act evolve. Someday, anticipating breaches might mean a system along the lines of Philip K. Dick’s precogs in “The Minority Report,” who foresee crimes before they’re committed. But for right now, we have data-monitoring companies and programs that are becoming more and more effective and prolific in the effort to anticipate and stop treachery before it happens.


Anticipating employee actions isn’t really rocket science. Nobody has to peek inside e-mails or monitor every keystroke to figure it out. If an employee’s volume of e-mail suddenly increases, that might mean something. If an employee’s personal contacts begin to change, that might mean something. When patterns of behavior shift, something underhanded might be going on.

And that’s what data-monitoring software is all about. “Rather than actually reading each employee’s messages, the software looks for warning shifts in behavior. Abruptly changing languages is one such sign,” so catching a culprit may not mean necessarily breaching the privacy you think you have at work. It’s a simple matter of monitoring data that reflects our behavior, our personalities, and our work-rhythm like a mirror. And all of that is well and good. Data-monitoring software is a perfectly justifiable, defensible, and legal means to protect company integrity and company secrets.


Exposure to that sort of scrutiny may very well reveal much more than just illegal actions or ill-intent. It may reveal that like any good, professionally-oriented employee, a team member is looking for a new and better opportunity, the next natural step up the ladder. And while that’s a perfectly legitimate reason to spend some of your down time at work, it may change leadership’s view of your loyalty. But just because you’re looking for new opportunities for the future doesn’t mean you’re not loyal to the team right now.

And some activity could be misinterpreted, too. “Though data-based predictions might reveal employees with criminal intent, it could also lead to suspicion of perfectly good corporate citizens,” writes Goldhill. And like it or not, once you’re stigmatized, once you’re reputation is marred, there’s probably little chance of complete recovery: you may always represent a threat, or a threat of a threat. That’s what pained Cassio so.

Whatever the case, data-monitoring software and data-monitoring businesses are here, likely to stay, at least until a more reliable crystal ball is chiseled out.

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Ed Ledford enjoys the most challenging, complex, and high stakes communications requirements. His portfolio includes everything from policy and strategy to poetry. A native of Asheville, N.C., and retired Army Aviator, Ed’s currently writing speeches in D.C. and working other writing projects from his office in Rockville, MD. He loves baseball and enjoys hiking, camping, and exploring anything. Follow Ed on Twitter @ECLedford.