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Businesses Slow to Modify and Block Access Rights When Employees Change Roles or Leave the Company

A recent survey of IT professionals, conducted by IT firm Ivanti has revealed access rights to digital resources are not always terminated promptly when employees change roles or leave the company. The latter is especially concerning as there is a high risk of data theft and sabotage of company systems by former employees. There have been many reported cases of former employees taking sensitive data to new employers and conducting malicious acts in cases of termination.

The survey was conducted online in the summer of 2019 on 400 individuals, 70% of whom were IT professionals. Questions were asked about setting up permissions for new employees, modifying access rights when roles change, and terminating access rights to company resources when employees are terminated, contracts end, or employees find alternative employment.

The respondents came from a broad range of industries including healthcare. 27% of respondents said they were required to comply with the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), 25% were required to comply with the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), and 23% had to comply with the Sarbanes-Oxley Act (SOX)

While policies and procedures have been established to cover the entire process, the survey revealed issues onboarding new employees, modifying permissions, and terminating access rights.

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85% of employees said they did not have access to all the resources they needed to complete their job duties when they first joined the company. Surveyed IT professionals confirmed that to be the case, with 38% saying it takes an average of 2-4 days to fully onboard new starters and 27% said it takes more than a week.

From a security and compliance perspective, modifying access rights to resources is of far greater importance but even though legislation such as HIPAA calls for prompt changes to be made to prevent unauthorized data access, access right changes are slow to be applied, if they are applied at all.

Only 55% of respondents were confident that access to unnecessary resources was removed when an employee’s role in the organization changed. 26% of IT professionals said it typically takes over a week to fully deprovision employees when they leave the company and only half of surveyed IT professionals were confident that access to critical systems and data had been blocked for the most recent employee to leave the company. When asked if they knew someone who still had access to a former employer’s systems or data, 52% said yes.

The biggest perceived risks of failing to fully deprovision a former employee were sensitive data leakage (38%), cyberattacks through an unmanaged account (26%), and malicious data theft (24%).

When asked about the reasons for the onboarding, amending, and offboarding issues, the main issue was poorly defined processes, cited as a problem by 24% of surveyed IT professionals. 23% said there were issues with automation and 10% said it was due to a lack of resources. More than half of IT professionals (54%) had to make changes manually, 37% used some automation, and just 9% said processes were fully automated and were applied as soon as HR makes a change.

Unless job roles and permissions are well defined and procedures properly documented, issues will occur and without a high degree of automation, there are bound to be delays offboarding employees, even though the delays expose companies to considerable risk and potential fines for noncompliance.

Author: Steve Alder is the editor-in-chief of HIPAA Journal. Steve is responsible for editorial policy regarding the topics covered on HIPAA Journal. He is a specialist on healthcare industry legal and regulatory affairs, and has several years of experience writing about HIPAA and other related legal topics. Steve has developed a deep understanding of regulatory issues surrounding the use of information technology in the healthcare industry and has written hundreds of articles on HIPAA-related topics.