By Shannon Walker, Founder and President of Whistleblower Security Inc
No matter the industry or level of security you have, your organization is vulnerable to cybersecurity threats. Employee negligence, human error, and malicious attacks can result in severe consequences for a business and are difficult to plan for. Cybersecurity threats also can come in many forms, such as data breaches, denial of service attacks, and phishing scams. Due to the intensive nature of cybersecurity and protective services, it is incredibly vital that organizations take proactive steps to protect themselves against these threats and plan for the potential consequences of said attacks. One step towards becoming more secure is implementing a whistleblower hotline.
A whistleblower hotline allows employees to report cybersecurity vulnerabilities anonymously without fear of retribution. This type of hotline makes it more likely that employees will report any issues they notice with the organization’s security systems instead of trying to hide them out of a sense of shame or fear of being fired. Implementing a whistleblower hotline can take on many different forms, but that is a key to implementation success: The more reporting methods, the better. The nature of a whistleblower hotline has many benefits for an organization’s cybersecurity protection.
Fraud and Theft Prevention
One of the first benefits of implementing a whistleblower hotline in your organization is that it can prevent many cybersecurity and data breaches. One of the most significant breaches a hotline can prevent altogether is fraud, one of the biggest security issues that many businesses have to deal with regularly. Approximately 1 in 5 small businesses in Canada are victims of fraud – in 2020 47% of Canadian organizations reported that they have experienced fraud.
As can be seen from this data, fraud is rampant in both small and large businesses in North America. Companies can avoid employee fraud through accountability and transparency, where a whistleblower hotline comes into full effect. Implementing an anonymous hotline that goes directly from the employee to the security team improves overall company transparency. Having open lines of communication from the top down also demonstrates trust between management, employees, clients and the public. Increasing trust levels between lower-level employees and upper management will encourage employees to raise their concerns and cause them to be more likely to report any instances of fraud they see around them. The best way to get long-term success in cybersecurity and fraud prevention is by encouraging a company culture of ongoing accountability, and a whistleblower hotline helps to promote this culture.
Another of the biggest draws of a dedicated whistleblower hotline is the benefits of anonymity. Reporting cybersecurity breaches anonymously means that employees who have been influenced by outside parties to commit a security breach can come forward without facing legal repercussions from the organization or anyone else involved in the breach. They can provide information about how they were convinced to commit the breach and what security vulnerabilities were exploited during this process, which helps the organization discover potential weaknesses in their system and take steps to fix them. As has been touched on, being able to report completely anonymously will also encourage more employees to come forward and report instances of fraud or theft they see around them without fear of the social ramifications that can come from this reporting. Being able to retain that personal anonymity is one of the priorities of a whistleblower hotline and should be emphasized to each employee.
A whistleblower hotline is not something that an organization creates – it is something that your organization hires a trusted 3rd party provider to take care of. That means that the whistleblower hotline will not be bound by the same hours and constraints of the organization. For example, our Ethics Hotline is equipped with worldwide access, meaning we can support calls in English, French, and Spanish and support another 150 languages, as well as any hearing or speech impairments. The hotline is also available 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year. This is vital to accessibility because the individual whistleblower may not feel safe communicating during work hours. You want your whistleblower hotline to be available anytime to encourage whistleblowers to feel completely safe reporting anything at any time. If you limit the available hours, your hotline will not be as successful at capturing breaches. Accessibility has huge effects on the overall success of your organization’s hotline.
Reporting & Accuracy
When it comes to reporting and increasing the accuracy of reports of wrongdoing, a whistleblower hotline is just the thing. If someone reports an issue via standard email or phone, there is always some chance that details may be lost or misunderstood during the process. A whistleblower hotline provides a standardized means of recording tips from whistleblowers, which minimizes the risk of loss of information and allows for a more straightforward analysis of trends or patterns within the data reported through the system. These features have massive benefits for future analysis and determining needed tools for increases in overall security.
A whistleblower hotline within an organization acts as the unbiased, trusted third party to facilitate communication between those who want to report wrongdoing and those tasked with investigating it. By providing a safe space for sensitive information to be shared, companies can get the best possible understanding of what misconduct has taken place, how they can resolve it, and how they can prevent it in the future. When it comes to organizational cybersecurity protection, there is no better way to ensure prevention, anonymity, accessibility, and reporting accuracy all at the same time. Integrating this into your organization’s cybersecurity plan will improve your peace of mind, along with overall top-down trust and transparency.
Shannon Walker is the founder and president of Whistleblower Security Inc. (WBS), launched in 2005. She frequently speaks around the world on whistleblowing, ethics, corporate culture and diversity. Whistleblower Security is Women Business Enterprise Canada certified, making it the only woman-owned and managed certified ethics reporting business in North America. A former elected City Official, Shannon has also sat on a number of non-profit boards and is currently Chair of the Ambleside Dundarave Business Improvement Association. She has a B.A from Simon Fraser University in British Columbia, and an M.A. from Pepperdine University in California.