Alison Connolly

director of strategic partnerships, DarkOwl

While nobody wants to have a company culture of paranoia, it is important to educate employees about cybersecurity.

How to Keep Your Company Data Secure

Most of her Tuck classmates graduated with an industry-focused outlook, like brand marketing or investment banking. Alison Connolly T’11 just knew she wanted to live in Denver. After several years as an independent consultant, Connolly met the founders of DarkOwl. That’s when she fell in love with an industry: cybersecurity.

Of course what Connolly finds fascinating, most corporate leaders find cold-sweat terrifying: millions of stolen login credentials, credit cards, and social security numbers, plus an abundance of weapons, drugs, and other illegal goods that are for sale or are simply on display on the darknet, an untraceable network of websites that aren’t indexed or searchable like the Internet we are all familiar with. As director of strategic partnerships for DarkOwl, Connolly sells subscriptions to the company’s proprietary database of darknet content, a kind of search engine of hacker activity, updated in real-time. With it, companies, governments, and investigators can track and monitor any relevant data hacks and breaches and limit the damage that comes from having proprietary information exposed.

We asked Connolly for advice about how companies can keep their data secure.

The biggest threat is that we’re all human

Organizations tend to be overly suspicious about ‘insider threats’ when in reality the much bigger threat stems from the fact that employees are simply human: we leave our laptops at conferences, use weak passwords, log on via unsecured wifi networks, click on attachments from strangers, etc. When you plan cybersecurity efforts, realize that employees acting in good faith are often the weakest link.

The C-suite is the weakest link of all

The best targets are the people highest up in an organization. If a hacker gets their hands on their credentials, not only do they have access to the most information, but an email sent from their account—regardless of who is really sending it—will carry the most weight with clients and employees. The C-suite gets more emails than anyone else, and we’ve seen time and again that because they’re so busy, they actually tend to be more lax with cyber safety protocols. They think they’re immune to their own policies. Top executives also are on the road a lot, making them more likely to use an easily-hacked public coffee shop or hotel wifi network for sensitive activities when perhaps they shouldn’t.

Look both internally and externally

Most companies pay the most attention to internal cybersecurity, like firewalls, looking through logs for outliers in volume, and monitoring email traffic. But corporations can’t just sit inside the fence waiting for attacks. The average time between a company being hacked and realizing that it has been hacked is greater than 200 days. To shorten that time gap, they need to look externally to places that the hackers themselves are using—places like the darknet—for an indication of leaks. DarkOwl monitoring, for example, would alert you right away if any email addresses and passwords from your domain were posted on the darknet. That can often help trace the breach to a specific office or even a single point of sale credit card machine. Ten years ago, companies thought, “Why would we need to monitor our social media presence?” I think the darknet is on a similar trendline. Every organization is going to have to monitor it in some way to stay ahead of the potential threats they’re facing.

Two-factor authentication is a no brainer

Eighty-five percent of breaches are caused by someone with access to credentials and passwords who shouldn’t have them. Once they’re inside of the network, they can act as an employee and wreak all kinds of havoc. If everyone has two-factor authentication, employees need a username and password to log in, but also something the employee physically has, like a mobile phone or a token, making it much more difficult for threat actors to impersonate them. That may have once seemed like overkill, but these days, it’s just a no brainer for everyone.

All devices are work devices

We want to be able to access our personal and business email everywhere, but that blurs the lines between a work device and a personal one. Whose job is it to secure an employee’s personal device? Is it them? The company? Apple or Microsoft? Wider device access to company information brings convenience and productivity, but also exposure to risk. Companies need to have a say in the security of employees’ personal devices if they’re used for work.

Build a culture of data protection

While nobody wants to have a company culture of paranoia, it is important to educate employees about cybersecurity—things like phishing schemes and password hygiene—and make sure they feel some ownership around the policies that exist to protect their info. In addition to proprietary information and customer data, a company has plenty of personal data on employees themselves—social security numbers, bank routing numbers, W2s—so everyone has skin in the game.

Fess up if you mess up

I know our IT department well, and I never feel embarrassed to ask them, “Is this legit? Is this phishing?” Or to tell them that I messed up and clicked something I probably shouldn’t have. Build an awareness with employees that it’s ok to say you might have messed up, or that something seems a little off. Transparency is key. Don’t make employees so worried about the consequences of making a mistake that they’re embarrassed to say, “I messed up.” And make sure if they do, they know who to tell.

Hear more from Alison during her latest visit to Tuck as part of the Britt Technology Impact Series presented by the Center for Digital Strategies. In the video below, she explains what the darknet is and why it’s important in determining if you or your company have been hacked.

Continue Reading

Related Stories

A Strategic Approach to Talent Management

Liberty Mutual Vice President and Senior Talent Advisor Alice Lin T’14 shares how effective leadership and data analytics can drive positive company culture.

Read More

How to Shake Up an Industry, with Tomo Cofounder Carey Schwaber Armstrong T’10

Carey Schwaber Armstrong T’10, cofounder of Tomo, is working to transform the homebuyer experience.

Read More

How to Be a Successful Product Marketer with Meta’s Federico Queirolo T’14

Federico Queirolo T’14, product and go-to-market leader at Meta, shares his experiences and tips for successful product marketing.

Read More

Story & Strategy: Meet TikTok CMO Kate Jhaveri T’03

Building strong, vibrant, and supportive communities like the one she joined at Tuck has been a central theme throughout Kate Jhaveri’s decorated career.

Read More

Owning Her Career Path: Meet Lucile Chung T’08

YouTube Chief of Staff/Product Operations Lucile Chung T’08 has leveraged her curiosity and zeal for problem-solving to build a successful career in tech. 

Read More

How to Be a Successful Operations Leader

To succeed in operations, says ZOE COO Nicole Xu T’11, you need the short-term vision to run the business day-to-day, but you also need to be able to think three to five years ahead to build for the future. 

Read More

Greg Maxwell

After spending eight years in the military, Maxwell says Tuck’s general management curriculum gave him the foundation in business he needed, and he still relies on what he learned in his business strategy, communications, and negotiations courses. “Those soft skills courses really stay with you because they’re timeless.”

Read More

Technology Rules

The next generation of operations leaders looking to drive growth and optimization will need to be students of technology, says Peter Giordano T’11.

Read More

Making the Impossible, Possible

A conversation with Vincent Wu T’11, COO of NewsBreak, about the broad skillset it takes to become a “full stack COO” at a rapidly growing media company. 

Read More

Answering the Call

How Tuck and Amazon prepared Cem Sibay T’05 to embrace change and navigate disruption.

Read More

Caryn Nightengale

With the potential to become the world’s first self-flying air taxi service, Chief Financial Officer Caryn Nightengale T’02 says the company is poised to become a game-changing disruptor in the aerospace industry.

Read More

Improving Financial Health in the COVID-Era

Prudential President Jamie Kalamarides T'94 on how to improve your financial health during the COVID-19 era.

Read More

Melissa Llarena T’10 on Feeling Empowered Amid Uncertainty

As a career coach and host of the An Interview with Melissa Llarena podcast, Melissa Llarena T’10 is driven by helping marketers and creative professionals rediscover their sellable strengths.

Read More

How to Create a Customer-First Culture

Alison Elworthy T’11, SVP of customer success at HubSpot, offers advice on how to put customers first—no matter the size of your organization.

Read More

Driven by Wanderlust: Peter Sisson T’94

For serial entrepreneur Peter Sisson T’94, life has been one big adventure.

Read More

How to Build Your Personal Leadership Style

Successful leaders develop their own authentic and personal leadership style, says long-time PetSmart CEO David Lenhardt T’96.

Read More

Laura Scott

At Wayfair, Tuck alumna Laura Scott completely transformed the company’s operations. Now she’s dipping her toes into the startup world with Takeoff Tech.

Read More

International Development

As the vice president for Latin America and the Caribbean, Andrei Belyi T'01 leads TechnoServe’s mission of providing business solutions to poverty in 11 countries.

Read More

Work Hard, Dream Big

From Buffalo to the boardroom, Yancey Spruill T’97 has found the formula for success.

Read More

Juliet Horton

With Everly, Juliet Horton T’14 is changing how couples plan their wedding

Read More

How to Make a Successful Startup Pitch

In her seven years as a venture partner at LaunchCapital in Cambridge, Mass., Heather Onstott T’07 has heard about 1,000 pitches from startups.

Read More

Marketing a Disruptive Brand

Together, two Tuck alumni, Kate Jhaveri T’03 and Michael Aragon T’01, led marketing and innovation at the growing global brand Twitch.

Read More

Susan Hunt Stevens

In 2006 Susan Hunt Stevens T'98 started a blog as a "a guide to going green without going berserk." Years later the idea evolved into WeSpire, a platform that uses technology and social media to promote sustainable living.

Read More

Betsabeh Hermann

Before you know what she is, you first need to know what Betsabeh Hermann T’13 is not: She is not an astronaut. Or at least, not yet anyway.

Read More

Sprague Brodie

Sprague Brodie T’14 works in the heart of Silicon Valley at the sprawling Mountain View, California, campus of tech giant Google.

Read More

How to Promote Diversity and Nurture Talent

After Tuck, Suzanne Schaefer T’02 went into management consulting, figuring that eventually she might connect with a particular industry—to her surprise, she instead felt a strong pull toward recruiting and talent development.

Read More

Torlisa Jeffrey

One size does not fit all—that’s the philosophy of Torlisa Jeffrey T'12 , a senior product manager for Williams Sonoma. 

Read More

Chris Weasler

As director of global connectivity for Facebook, Chris Weasler T'97 is helping to bring online the 60 percent of the earth's population currently without internet access.

Read More

Gibson “Gib” Biddle

NerdWallet's Gib Biddle T'91 came to Tuck as a marketer, but then realized he was more of a builder.

Read More

Chris O’Neill

Evernote CEO Chris O’Neill T’01 is helping the digital productivity and note-keeping company do more by focusing on what it does best.

Read More

Elisabeth Hartley

As head of strategy and product development for Beats Electronics, Elisabeth Hartley T'05 is on the cusp of creating what the future of music could look like.

Read More

On Networking

Not many people in ball bearing sales finish their careers in venture capital. For Mike Carusi T’93, now one of the most successful health care investors in Silicon Valley, that unlikely journey started with two eye-opening years at Tuck. 

Read More

Eric Spiegel

People call Eric Spiegel T'87 the most natural leader they’ve ever met. Now CEO of Siemens USA, a global electronics and engineering powerhouse, he gets to lead on the issues that matter most. To his company and the country.

Read More

On Leadership

Bill Achtmeyer T’81 has worked with hundreds of senior executives at Fortune 500 companies and shares five pieces of advice for managing a large organization effectively.

Read More

On Establishing Your Personal Brand

Helen Kurtz T’97, chief marketing officer and senior vice president of Foster Farms, Inc. talks establishing your personal brand. 

Read More

Roger McNamee

Investor. Philanthropist. Entrepreneur. Roger McNamee T’82 is all of these and more in a career that has taken him to the top of the tech world.

Read More

Tips for Transforming Your Career

After positions of increasing seniority at Morgan Stanley, McKinsey, and JPMorgan, Kate Grussing T’91 decided she wanted to transform her career by helping others transform theirs.

Read More

On the Rewards of Nonprofit Board Service

Amy Houston T’97 was inspired to attend Tuck after seeing firsthand how a board with for-profit management experience can help a nonprofit, and she kept this lesson in mind when she joined the Robin Hood Foundation.

Read More

On Influencing Company Culture

In his six seasons as executive vice president and chief human resources officer for the National Football League, Robert Gulliver T’97 has helped manage the NFL through some major cultural shifts.

Read More

How Small Businesses Can Use Online Marketing Tools

After gaining experience at several software startups, Gail Goodman T’87 launched her own in 1999. As CEO of Constant Contact, Goodman has helped more than a half-million small-business customers navigate a rapidly evolving industry.

Read More