Warning over unattended PC peril

Who's been looking at my spreadsheets?

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Unattended PCs are becoming the focus of insider attacks, according to Gartner. It reckons "someone else must have used my PC" has become a typical defence to accusations of improper online behaviour.

Gartner advised businesses to implement 'timeouts' for all PCs to ensure that users are automatically logged out of application sessions or that PCs are locked in order to minimise the risk of attack. Let's be honest, the risks Gartner highlights would be obvious to anyone with anyone with a modicum of common sense. But since commonsense often flies out the window where computers are concerned it's perhaps worth enumerating the potential problems.

All manner of mischief is possible on unattended PCs including unauthorised access to personnel data such as salary information, making change to business information in order to cover up fraud or simply sending email in someone's else's name as either a prank or for more malign purposes.

"Organisations are protecting their systems and personnel against external security threats but failing to realise the very real risks that exist internally from something as basic as an unattended PC," said Jay Heiser, research vice president at Gartner.

Products such as proximity token and improved security policies can help address the problem but few organisations have implemented them, according to Gartner. The issue wouldn't exist providing users could be relied upon to log out or lock their PCs when they leave their desks.

A 'timeout' limits the window of opportunity for the misuse of a user’s PC but can lead to complaints about in inconvenience and it's not always appropriate in settings such as trading floors and other instances where rapid responses are needed. That issue doesn't apply in mainstream office environments where Gartner reckons resistance to time-outs can be overcome once workers understand they'll be held accountable for any computer misuse associated with their PCs.

"Unattended PCs represent the computer security equivalent of 'low-hanging fruit'. There is little point in implementing some sort of sophisticated identity and access management system unless you can ensure that when people are logged in to systems, they stay at their PCs," says. ®

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