Symantec raises the alarm over employee IP theft

Intellectual property agreement

Businesses need to take greater action to prevent data leakage and theft by employees, according to research carried out by security firm Symantec.

Almost two-thirds (62 per cent) of employees believe it acceptable to transfer work documents to personal devices or cloud-based file sharing services, the survey of 3,000-plus people found.

Furthermore, the majority never delete the data they have moved, because they see no harm in keeping it.

Of those who had left or lost their jobs in the last 12 months, 50 per cent admitted to taking confidential corporate data with them, with 40 per cent saying they planned to use it in their new job.

Employees not only think it is acceptable to take and use IP when they leave a company, they also believe their employers do not care, according to Symantec's findings.

Just 47 per cent of respondents indicated their organisation takes action when employees break the rules surrounding the movement of sensitive information. Some 51 per cent said their company does not strictly enforce policies, so feel it more than OK to take corporate data.

Symantec's research also found that only 38 per cent of employees said their manager views data protection as a business priority, while 44 per cent thought ownership of IP rests with the person who created it.

Lawrence Bruhmuller, vice president of engineering and product management at Symantec, chastised businesses for their lax attitudes.

"Companies cannot focus their defences solely on external attackers and malicious insiders who plan to sell stolen IP for monetary gain. The everyday employee, who takes confidential corporate data without a second thought because he does not understand it is wrong, can be just as damaging to an organisation," he said.

Dave Brutt, founder of Mobility Legal, urged companies to take action before it is too late.

"When it comes to trade secret theft ... an ounce of prevention is usually worth 10 pounds of cure," he said.

"Before employees exit, dust off agreements they likely have not looked at in years, figure out all of the places the employee has stored sensitive company information and get it back, and ensure that employees understand their continuing obligations not to use or disclose company trade secrets," Brutt added.

Jane McCallion
Managing Editor

Jane McCallion is ITPro's Managing Editor, specializing in data centers and enterprise IT infrastructure. Before becoming Managing Editor, she held the role of Deputy Editor and, prior to that, Features Editor, managing a pool of freelance and internal writers, while continuing to specialize in enterprise IT infrastructure, and business strategy.

Prior to joining ITPro, Jane was a freelance business journalist writing as both Jane McCallion and Jane Bordenave for titles such as European CEO, World Finance, and Business Excellence Magazine.