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Held Hostage by a Dishonest Employee

Russell W. Gilmore, CISSP, CISM, EnCE Compliance, Computer Forensics, Corporate Compliance, Security Policy and Procedure Development, Security Program Development, Theft, Theft, Embezzlement, and Fraud


power shift buttonI recently was involved in a case in which a company employee was discovered using a company credit card for personal reasons. This happens occasionally, and one would think that immediately terminating the dishonest employee would resolve the issue. But what happens when the employee is the one and only IT person for the company?

Many companies have only one person to manage all of their IT needs. There is nothing wrong with this. Considering that 99.7 percent of U.S. employer firms are a small business (http://www.sba.gov/sites/default/files/FAQ_Sept_2012.pdf), having a sole IT person may be very common. The problem with this situation is the lack of oversight and management of the IT person by company executives and owners. What are the consequences caused by this scenario? How can companies and organizations prevent the backlash experienced when a dishonest employee has the “keys to the kingdom”?

This issue can occur in any business with a small IT staff. This particular case involved an employee who had been with the company for eight years. In that time, the employee came to be the only person who dealt with all IT issues. He managed the website, the phone system, the internet service, all servers, all workstation, the data connections for multiple facilities – you get the point. The employee could have brought the company to a standstill for several days if not several weeks, if he had wanted to do so. It was not until deciding that he needed to be fired that someone finally asked the question “What does he do and can we do it without him?” The answer was, “No.”

In this case, the employee was being terminated for cause. What if he had been hit by a bus? The company would still be in the same position. The only option left for the company was to hire someone to come in and inventory the network to help them prepare for the employee’s termination. This involved hundreds of man hours. Fortunately, the transition was successful and the company lost no production time.

There are several steps that can be taken to prevent this from occurring in your business. The person responsible for a company’s IT needs should document everything and provide this documentation to management or ownership in a reviewable format on a regular basis. This document should be considered a living document, and any time there is a network change or system change, the document should be edited to reflect the change. The document should include but not be limited to:

  • A list of service providers and all information needed to contact this service provider for support or changes. This includes the Internet service provider, phone service provider, web hosting company, cell phone provider, cloud services, or any other service provider used by the company.
  • Administrator passwords. These can be sealed in an envelope and/or put in a safe.
  • Device passwords and configuration. Think about firewalls, switches, wireless routers, and other equipment.
  • Software passwords and configurations. The IT administrator may be the only person aware of specialized software used in the office that requires specialized configuration or passwords. Make sure this information is documented and available to company executives.
  • Procedures for backing up and restoring systems.
  • A “What if…” document. This document would include instructions on how to deal with and recover from system outages, power outages, or other unique IT failures.

Depending on your network, the information needed in this document will differ. The best way to determine what you may need to document is to sit back and think of the problems created if your IT person were gone. What questions would you have? The document should answer all of these questions. It is also important to make the person responsible aware that this document is a “Continuity of Operations” document. There are many reasons why an IT employee may not be able to come to work, but their absence should not disable any part of the IT infrastructure.

It is also critical to make sure there are two people on the point-of-contact list with all service providers. The second person on the list should be an owner or executive of the company. If the IT person should be unable to perform his or her duties for any reason, the executive or owner of the company can call the service provider and make necessary changes without jumping through a lot of hoops to gain ownership of the service.

Finally, have a third party review this information at least once a year. That third party could be an outside consultant or even a current employee with knowledge of the network and need for business continuity. An outside consultant has the advantage of being objective when looking at an environment and utilizing their experience to help direct and drive a “Continuity Plan” that will protect the company in the event of any number of unexpected events.


Plan. Protect. Prosper.

Protus3 specializes in security system design, security consulting, corporate investigations and other investigative services. Partner with Protus3 and we will examine each situation to identify threats and develop solutions for your best outcome.

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