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Underpaid Employees Are a Cybersecurity Risk

Underpaid Employees Are a Cybersecurity Risk
Photograph by George Frey/Bloomberg

Cybersecurity breaches such as those at Target, Home Depot, and JPMorgan Chase are expensive and embarrassing. While attacks may come from outside hackers, the FBI recently issued a warning that internal hacking from current and former employees poses the biggest threat—and is on the rise. The FBI recommends companies take additional security precautions such as changing their passwords more often. There may be a simpler way: Pay employees more to keep them from becoming disgruntled in the first place.

The rise in employee hacking is just a new wrinkle in the ever-present epidemic of employee theft. Studies have documented the many reasons why employees steal: personal predisposition, economic need, workplace culture, or often a misguided sense of fairness. According to Queens University business professors Liane Greenberg and Julian Barling (PDF), workers often steal when they feel their employment relationship is unfair. They might see stealing as justified because it restores moral order. That attitude is most common when employees consider themselves underpaid, and Greenberg and Barling cite studies that show employee theft increased when pay was cut with no explanation.