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Holiday companies – are you at risk from my own employees?

The leisure and tourism sector was one of the first casualties of the pandemic but also one of the first to react to it.

Photo of map with travel item on top

With the changing demand for their services many companies quickly adapted to working from home and then back into the office as the restrictions eased. Consequently, many travel and leisure companies have adapted to the pandemic through allowing a significant number of their staff to work from home ether permanently or as part of an agile approach for their workforce.

Travel companies have also taken advantage of technology that allows them to serve customers through digital channels, which has led to a rapid surge in digital capabilities, services, and products for customers of those sectors.

However, this digital response to the pandemic crisis has led to new cybersecurity risks and vulnerabilities. And one of these key threats is created by the employees themselves.

What types of insider threats are there?

They generally come in two forms.

  1. 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.

  2. 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 significant 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’ behaviour."

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.

2020 Case Study – Marriott Hotel Group

In January 2020, hackers abused a third-party application that Marriott used to provide guest services. The attackers gained access to 5.2 million records of Marriott guests. These records included passport data, contact information, gender, birthdays, loyalty account details, and personal preferences. Marriott’s security team noticed suspicious activity almost two months later and sealed the insider-caused security breach at the end of February 2020. It transpired that the cyber-attack had compromised the credentials of two Marriott employees to log in to one of the hotel chain’s third-party applications. This was an entirely avoidable scenario and with the use of third-party vendor monitoring and user and entity behaviour analytics, Marriott could have detected the breach before hackers accessed clients’ data

The company ended up paying an £18.4M fine to the Information Commissioner’s Office as the company had failed to comply with General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) requirements.

What can you do to protect your company?

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 the 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

Consider joining our growing community as a free core member.

Community members receive regular updates which include the latest guidance, news, and security updates. Our free membership has been tailored for small and medium sized businesses and charities 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).

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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