When Business Loyalty Drops, Data Theft Increases

It’s a new year and yet the possibility of a recession lingers. We’re obviously not economists but if we’ve learned anything over our two and half decades of computer forensics and investigative work, it’s that employee loyalty starts to decrease during periods of economic uncertainty. And when loyalty to an employer is dropping, many employees start to gather and copy data to non-company devices or personal accounts. They do this believing it will help them when they seek new employment, or if they decide to launch a new business in direct competition. Sometimes we are engaged at the time a layoff is being considered to help with the planning and mitigation measures, but more often we are brought in to provide evidence of a suspected theft that took place when a key employee departed with a copy of valuable business information.  

We have provided forensic evidence and expert witness testimony on many trade secret misappropriation (theft) cases over the years. The cases have involved a broad cross-section of employees taking sensitive information, such as engineers, business unit leaders, sales and marketing employees, R&D staff, finance professionals, and executives. So, who should companies be watching? The answer is, any employee having access to your sensitive business information, which might include:

  • A list of customers, their contact details, pricing, or profit margins
  • The terms and conditions of your deals
  • Future business planning and forecasts
  • New products or service offerings in the pipeline
  • Software code
  • Research and Development and iterative product development details
  • Engineering specifications or work instructions
  • Anything you would consider the “crown jewels” of your business

Economic uncertainty and shifts in the job market cause loyalties to shift, often away from an employee’s present employer. And when loyalty is going down, the personal justification to commit the theft is on the rise. 

In our next few articles, we’ll discuss: The Number 1 event for data loss | The Top 3 ways employees take your data | How to Mitigate loss and Best practices for Recovery

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