Today’s businesses devote plenty of resources and attention to employee retention. And that makes sense, given how expensive it is to replace a skilled worker these days. But like it or not, key employees will decide to move on from time to time, despite a business’s best effort to retain them.
But there’s a hidden danger associated with the departure of high-level workers beyond the loss of their specific skill set. There’s also the possibility that they will take important trade secrets with them on their way out the door. And no business is immune from the threat. Even Google fell victim to it when one of its engineers decamped to Uber with a trove of research secrets from Google’s self-driving vehicle program.
To avoid situations like that, businesses must have a game plan to deal with departing employees long before they ever leave. Here’s a simple, 3-step plan to prepare for employee departures while protecting company data and trade secrets.
Deploy Employee Monitoring Software
The first step in guarding against the risks associated with sudden employee departures is to deploy employee monitoring or tracking software. Doing so accomplishes two things. First, an employee tracking system will help managers map out the employee’s workload so they can more effectively plan for their absence. It’s also useful to inform efforts at employee cross-training that improve business continuity.
Second, such software gives managers visibility into what an employee’s doing in the runup to their departure. In many cases, this makes it possible to spot the signs that they may be collecting data to take with them as they leave. With an early warning like that, it’s often possible to intervene before a data theft takes place.
Create a Technology Offboarding Plan
While it’s important to prevent a departing employee from taking data with them, it’s equally important to make sure they can’t access company systems to take data after they’ve left. And doing that means having a comprehensive technology offboarding plan in place beforehand. A great place to start is by taking a full accounting of employee credentials and data access levels if one doesn’t exist already. Doing so can help a business to understand which types of critical data a departing employee may have access to in the first place. That way, they’ll have a better understanding of how much risk the departure of a given employee entails.
In addition, businesses should plan for a departure interview — to take place long before the employee’s end date — to assess their use of personal devices or another shadow IT tech in their day-to-day work. That will yield clues into devices and software that may hold company data so it may be dealt with before the employee leaves.
It’s also a good idea to create an action plan for collecting business-owned devices, terminating user accounts, and disabling remote access on the day of their departure. This helps to tie up loose ends and prevent any chance of the former employee finding ways to access company systems after they leave.
Restrict Cloud Storage and Removable Device Usage
Last but not least, it’s important to restrict avenues for data exfiltration to discourage a departing employee from trying to retain data. The simplest way to do this is to restrict access to public cloud storage sites using hardware firewall rules and SPI technology. By closing access to major cloud providers like Google Drive and the like, it’s possible to deprive a departing employee of an easy means of getting data offsite.
For the same reasons, it’s also a good idea to restrict the usage of USB drives and other removable storage devices on company-owned computers and other hardware. There are a variety of ways to accomplish this ranging from the use of Group Policy in Windows environments to the deployment of endpoint security software that supports the feature. This cuts off yet another method of data egress — and also lowers the odds of data-stealing malware or ransomware from finding its way into the network.
A Safe and Amicable Split
With the above measures in place, businesses should have nothing left to do for a departing employee besides writing them a recommendation letter and wishing them well. Then, the business can get on with the process of finding a replacement without worrying about any data theft by their former employee. It’s the safest way to deal with an unavoidable situation and leads to a safe and amicable split that harms neither party in the process.
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