2015: Ashley Madison Hack, Data Breaches Top Tech Coverage

By Aliah D. Wright Jan 5, 2016
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While reports on data breaches and feedback apps were among the most-read SHRM Online technology articles in 2015, the hacking of a dating website for married cheaters dominated our online technology coverage.

One of the most surprising discoveries in that story was that many of the people who registered for the Ashley Madison website used their work e-mail addresses to do so.

Leaked information from the site​​—which sports the motto “Life is Short. Have an Affair”—included names, e-mails, member profiles, credit card data, street addresses, phone numbers, likes, dislikes and, reportedly, sexual preferences from some 37 million Ashley Madison subscribers.

Experts cautioned employers against prying into employees’ personal affairs after the Ashley Madison hack, even while noting that there were registrations from domains that included the White House and the military. Instead, labor lawyers and HR professionals urged their peers to distribute policies on the proper use of company e-mail—and to remind employees that when it comes to the computers and devices they use for work, they should have no expectation of privacy.

HR professionals told SHRM Online that while unfortunate, the Ashley Madison incident served as a teachable moment for employers​​ and their employees about proper workplace behavior.

Data Breach Concerns

Hackers—and the fallout from their attacks on businesses—also made big news in 2015. In early December, Reuters reported that “Target Corp. agreed to pay $39.4 million to resolve claims by banks and credit unions that said they lost money because of the retailer’s late 2013 data breach.” In that case, 110 million people had their phone numbers and e-mail addresses stolen after 40 million credit cards were compromised.

Data breaches cost companies a lot more than money. They can damage a company’s brand and cause anxiety for employees impacted by a breach.

And when it comes to protecting their security, employees need to be aware that as they increase their use of wearable technology while taking part in company wellness programs, the likelihood of breaches will increase. Cybersecurity weaknesses could place companies at risk of being hacked and having employees’ private information exposed. Gartner predicted that by 2020, 25 billion things will be connected to the Internet—up from 4.9 billion in 2015.

Even the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission weighed in on wearable technology in the workplace, observing that ​medical data collected by these devices, such as a person’s heart rate or how many miles he or she has run, may need to be held to greater standards of privacy.

Feedback Apps Rise

As more companies decided to eliminate yearly performance reviews in 2015, many opted to use web- and mobile-based technologies to conduct real-time, 360-degree employee evaluations.

Officials at California-based companies Impraise and Workday said their instant feedback apps boosted productivity by allowing staff to rate one another, giving them information about their job performance and providing feedback on ways to improve.

But at least one expert cautioned HR to be prepared in case such feedback leads to tension in the workplace.

“This stuff is coming fast,” said Karissa Thacker, a Delaware-based workplace psychologist and advisor to International Paper, AT&T and other companies. “It is critical that human resource leaders be proactive in developing rules of engagement regarding instant feedback apps. The rules need to be developed through a partnership of business leaders and the HR function.”

More HR Departments Paperless

Some 77 percent of HR departments say they are now paperless. Why? It saves time, increases productivity and boosts efficiency, according to an informal survey of HR professionals who attended the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) 2015 Annual Conference & Exposition in Las Vegas this past summer.

Many HR departments have greatly reduced or eliminated their use of paper by turning to computer-based systems that store and manage documents and keep track of employee information.

“Paperless HR allows teams to be more nimble,” said Kathy Enros, vice president of talent for ACL, a Canadian-based software company. An HR practitioner for more than 20 years, Enros said that “when we don’t have to dedicate time and space to the maintenance of paper files, we have more time to focus on strategy and strengthening our value proposition to the business.”

Aliah D. Wright is an online editor/manager for SHRM.

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