A return to the office could be bad for computer security – The Graduate School at the University at Buffalo

ByMabel R. Acton

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When employees feel they deserve superior technology compared to other employees — and they don’t receive unrestricted access to it — they pose a security risk to their companies, according to a new School of Management study.

Forthcoming in MIS Quarterly, the research explores “technological entitlement,” a feeling some employees have that they are more deserving of high-tech resources, uses and privileges than their co-workers.

“When these exaggerated expectations of special status go unmet, entitled employees lash out in aggressive acts of misuse or abuse,” says Laura Amo, the study’s lead author and assistant professor of management science and systems. “They have fewer qualms about breaking the rules because they consider themselves ‘above’ organizational restrictions on technology.”

The researchers conducted three studies with independent samples totaling nearly 700 working adults. In the first study, they measured past computer abuse behavior and perceptions of restrictions on broad technology use. In the second and third studies, they modeled computer abuse intent by investigating restrictions on remote access and on personal- and company-owned technology at work.   

Their findings show that technologically entitled employees pose a direct threat to the information security of organizations.

“If an average-sized company experienced a 10% increase in technologically entitled employees, it’d have to spend an extra $90,000 each year to mitigate that risk,” says James Lemoine, associate professor of organization and human resources. “Proactive measures — such as user behavior analytics and employee training and awareness — can provide significant savings by reducing cyber risk.”

Their findings also have implications for creating and implementing policy on employee technology use, and recommend involving technologically entitled employees in the process of policy-building to encourage buy-in.

“Organizations that work toward establishing fair policies will better mitigate security risks,” says Emily Grijalva, associate professor of organization and human resources.

Tech entitlement also has implications for employees returning to the office — or being heavily monitored while working remotely — following the COVID-19 pandemic.

“These trends may be perceived as restrictions imposed by the organization, which could increase the security risk posed by technologically entitled employees,” says Grijalva. “Businesses should carefully consider employee perceptions when deciding how to move forward with disabling or downgrading remote work options and implementing restrictions on remote workers.”

Amo, Grijalva and Lemoine collaborated on the study with UB doctoral graduate Tejaswini Herath, professor of information systems at the Brock University Goodman School of Business, and H. Raghav Rao, the AT&T Distinguished Chair in Infrastructure Assurance and Security at the University of Texas at San Antonio Carlos Alvarez College of Business.