Mass layoffs in tech potential cybersecurity risk

One disgruntled employee could cause a lot of trouble as Amazon and Microsoft start handing out notices to thousands of laid-off staff.

Mass layoffs across the tech sector could pose a security risk, according to Frank Price, Chief Technology Officer at cyber risk management firm CyberGRX.

"That one disgruntled engineer or salesperson who realizes they are still logged into GitHub or Salesforce on their personal device can cause a lot of trouble," Price said.

It could present threat actors with a unique opportunity to try and gain access by targeting hardware rather than taking a more typical route of stealing credentials through phishing and social engineering.

"Attackers [can] get a hold of hardware which could be in transit as remote employees return their laptops, mobile phones, or any other devices that have network access," Price said.

He added that malicious privilege escalations would be "incredibly" hard to notice.

What happened?

Mass layoffs in the tech sector continue, with Microsoft being the latest company to announce downsizing plans in response to a global economic slowdown.

The software giant plans to cut some 10,000 jobs or about 5% of its 200,000-strong workforce. It said it would take a $1.2 billion charge to its earnings to deal with severance payments and other expenses.

Microsoft plans to finalize staff reductions by the end of March and has already started handing out notices to laid-off employees. Its rival in cloud computing, Amazon, is also notifying workers of its own 18,000-people cuts.

Earlier this year, Amazon confirmed it would cut 6% of its corporate workforce to achieve "a stronger cost structure." In November, Facebook parent Meta said it would eliminate 11,000 roles or 13% of its employees.

Elon Musk slashed the number of Twitter's employees by half when he took over the company in October – with more layoffs reportedly on the way.

"There is a huge possibility that there will be more layoffs across the tech sector this year," Chris Muller of Money Under 30, a personal finance website, said.

Why is it happening?

Overhiring during the pandemic and a strategic shift toward automation are mentioned as some of the reasons behind reductions.

In a note to staff, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella said customers wanted to "optimize their digital spend" after accelerated spending during the pandemic and "exercise caution as some parts of the world are in a recession and other parts are anticipating one."

"At the same time, the next major wave of computing is being born with advances in AI, as we're turning the world's most advanced models into a new computing platform," Nadella said, noting that the industry is "unforgiving" to anyone who doesn't adapt.

Just last week, Microsoft said it was considering investing $10 billion into OpenAI, the owner of ChatGPT, a viral chatbot.

A shift toward AI-driven operations could allow companies to reduce labor costs and increase efficiency simultaneously, according to Muller. "Automation has now become a crucial element in the tech sector," he said.

What's next?

Increasing reliance on AI comes with its own risks, with concerns that cybercriminals could exploit technologies like ChatGPT for anything from phishing attacks to malware.

At the same time, emerging technologies will continue to spur growth in the industry, where smaller, more agile companies are still on the path to expansion.

"It is not all bad news for tech employees," Kristen Tronsky, Chief People Officer at cloud tech provider DoiT International, said.

A cloud specialist company that has partnered with Amazon and Google, DoiT International has experienced revenue growth of 773% over the past three years and is "actively" recruiting for more than 60 positions, Tronsky said.

Bloomberg reported that the auto industry could be a big winner as Silicon Valley sheds jobs while some laid-off tech workers go on and start their own businesses. According to a report by Insider, 75% of tech workers dismissed in October were set to find a job within three months.

"There will still be new opportunities that will help mitigate the impact of any layoffs in the technology sector," Muller said.

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