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Do Employees Steal Trade Secrets? Yes! (Just Ask Them)

New survey confirms nearly half of employees would steal

trade_secret_tA recent survey concluded that nearly half of all employees would walk out with proprietary data(such as company database records and business plans) if they were fired tomorrow [1].  Other findings included…

  • 45 percent said they have access to information on a system that is not relevant to their role.
  • 42 percent indicated they have used passwords to access data that they are not authorized to access.

Breaking news? Well, not really; just an unfortunate reminder that those who pose the greatest threat to our companyʼs most valuable intellectual assets are trusted insiders. Indeed, here is just a short list of the firms that have made the news fairly recently because of the inside theft of their trade secrets…

  • DuPont: Theft of industrial coatings technology
  • Motorola: Theft of wireless communication software
  • Goldman Sachs: Theft of trading software code
  • CME Group: Theft of futures exchange software code
  • Citadel Group: Hedge fund electronic trading technology

Your most valuable assets are small, portable, and attractive. Misappropriating them can be just a mouse click away. Unfortunately, your employees are often likely to help themselves to these assets (client lists, etc.) if and when they leave.

The Take-Aways

  1. Social Media Preservation: When key employees leave under suspicious circumstances, donʼt forget to investigate (and preserve) social media sites related to the departing employees BEFORE you file your suit. These sites are increasingly becoming important sources of relevant evidence.
  2. Non-Disclosure / Confidentiality Agreements: Utilize them!
  3. Exit Interviews: Key employees leaving? Remind them of their duty to protect your trade secrets even after they leave. Lock them into statements related to their future business plans. Take good notes.
  4. Have a Plan: Secure computers and mobile devices of employees when they leave. Contact counsel right away.
  5. Prevention: The best approach, of course, is a good Trade Secret Theft Prevention Program. Visit our website for the Top Ten Ways to Prevent Trade Secret Theft.

[1] Cyber-Arkʼs sixth annual global “Trust, Security and Passwords Survey. September 5, 2012

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About Jeff Hartman

Jeff is a 30 year veteran of the corporate security, computer forensics, and eDiscovery community and a co-founder and partner at 4Discovery. 4Discovery is a leading provider of computer incident response and computer forensics services to attorneys, corporate security executives, and the information protection community.