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Cyber Crime Update - Are construction companies at risk from their own employees?

After all, the industry's focus is on physical work with bricks and mortar. Surely digital activity is fairly minimal and unlikely to attract cyber criminals - isn't it?

Photo of building being demolished

Here on the Eastern Cyber Resilience Centre, we have seen that the construction industry has shown a significant reliance on technology over the last decade. There have also been seismic shifts in relation to project delivery and how organizations operate. From office operations to activities on-site, technologies such as cloud storage, email and smartphones are commonplace.


Digital tools, such as Building Information Modelling (BIM), are becoming increasingly commonplace at the design stage, along with technology such as 3D-printing, remote building monitoring systems, brick-laying robots, and other automated techniques. It is quite clear that the sector is unquestionably operating in a modern, digitized and connected way.


But as the industry progressively embraces modern technologies it cannot afford to ignore the corresponding risks. If unmanaged, cyber risk ultimately threatens to outweigh the benefits gained from continued technological advances. It is a common misconception that because the industry doesn't regularly deal with personal data that it is not a target for cyber criminals. But unfortunately, this is not the case. The industry presents a wide range of attractive opportunities for cyber criminals.


From controlling critical services, to the theft of trade secrets, there are many reasons that a construction sector organization could fall victim to cyber-crime. Tracking cyber incidents can be tricky, especially as a lot of incidents still go unreported. And while the construction sector may experience cyber-crime, unless a breach conforms to strict reporting requirements, the majority will not be publicized. This lack of knowledge-sharing can lead to underestimates of the true nature and scale of cyber exposures. If the industry is unaware of common vulnerabilities, it presents low-hanging fruit for cyber criminals.


The average cost of a data breach currently sits at nearly four million US dollars. Imagine, for example, that your entire library of CAD drawings was encrypted and ransomed, or simply deleted. What would it cost to recommission and replace them all? Then, add the wide range of associated business interruption costs, such as delays to on-going projects and employee overtime. You then begin to see the true impact of a potential cyber incident.


What does an insider threat look like?

These generally come in two forms.

Malicious – often in the form of a disgruntled fired employee who wants to get back at their former company, though they can also come in the form of employees still working at the company. In that case they may be part of an organised crime network or an individual looking to harm the company through fraud, IT sabotage, intellectual property theft or espionage.


Accidental – in the form of employees who unintentionally expose confidential data through poor cyber hygiene, weak passwords or similar.


Whichever one they are they contribute to a considerable number of data beaches every year.

A 2017 report from Clearswift reported that

“Organizations report that 42% of IT security incidents occur as a result of their employees’

In many cases breaches from former employees’ stem from an organisational failure to identify a change in employee status at the point the employee leaves the company – a classic disconnect between HR and the IT companies that are responsible for data security. Some companies are more vulnerable to this than others – it often occurs where there are high turnovers of staff or where the HR function is outsourced. But IT and HR policies and procedures are key to help companies combat the threat and make it more difficult for Insiders to operate.


What can you do to protect your business?

Threats like these are amongst the most difficult to guard against however there are some key considerations for companies.


Have clear HR policies around staff leaving the organisation and ensure that they are adhered to. All staff leaving to have documented and audited exit interviews to include return of company IT equipment, password cancellations etc., to limit opportunities for former staff members to be able to access company networks. Implement a handover period to try and limit impact on the organisation.


Make staff aware of the approaches that they might get and how to report them. One of Tesla’s employees was approached with a $1M deal for insider access. They reported it, helped with the investigation and a criminal, Kriuchkov was arrested. The ECRC can provide bespoke staff awareness training tailored to what threats your company and employees might face. Contact us now to find out more.


Implement strong access controls and allow access to systems that people really need rather than everything. If you were working in a physical location, you might have some areas which were only accessible to staff who worked there, and for anything really valuable, maybe a safe. But you wouldn’t give the safe keys to everyone who worked for you. If you’re not sure about access control take a look at one of our short videos about it.


Have internal network logging. This will enable you to see unusual activity, such as emailing eight thousand sensitive files outside of the network – this is how General Electric recently suffered a massive data breach. The NCSC has a free tool to help with this, Logging Made Easy. You can read more about it here.


Have policies and procedures which cover data control and access. Consider limiting the number of attachments that could be sent out at once, and then set up a rule which alerts you if any more than that are sent. This gives you the ability to check that what is being sent is going for a legitimate reason. Tell your staff that their emails are being monitored and tell them about the policy. If you are not sure whether your policies cover all that should be considered why not have a policy review with our affordable service provided by one of our students?


Further guidance & support

You can contact the Cyber Resilience Centre for guidance and support through our e-mail or use our online booking system to make an appointment with one of our team.


We recommend that all businesses in the Eastern region consider joining our growing community as a free member. Core members receive regular updates which include the latest guidance, news, and security updates. Our core membership has been tailored for businesses and charities of all sizes who are based across the seven counties in the East of England.


The ECRC is a policing-led, not for profit, membership organisation, with the aim to increase the cyber resilience within small and medium businesses within the East of England (Hertfordshire, Bedfordshire, Cambridgeshire, Norfolk, Suffolk, Essex, and Kent).



Reporting Cyber Crime

Report all Fraud and Cybercrime to Action Fraud by calling 0300 123 2040 or online. Forward suspicious emails to report@phishing.gov.uk or report SMS scams by forwarding the original message to 7726 (spells SPAM on the keypad).


Policing led - business focussed.



The contents of this website are provided for general information only and are not intended to replace specific professional advice relevant to your situation. The intention of The Cyber Resilience Centre for the East is to encourage cyber resilience by raising issues and disseminating information on the experiences and initiatives of others. Articles on the website cannot by their nature be comprehensive and may not reflect most recent legislation, practice, or application to your circumstances. The Cyber Resilience Centre for the East provides affordable services and Trusted Partners if you need specific support. For specific questions please contact us.

The Cyber Resilience Centre for the East does not accept any responsibility for any loss which may arise from reliance on information or materials published on this document. The Cyber Resilience Centre for the East is not responsible for the content of external internet sites that link to this site or which are linked from it.

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