Over a third of IT workers have admitted to accessing corporate systems after they have left a company, potentially breaching the Computer Misuse Act.
According to a survey carried out by Vason Bourne on behalf of Protected Networks, 49 per cent of those surveyed said they had retained access to their former employer's network after leaving the company. Of these, 75 per cent admitted continuing to access the corporate systems, sometimes repeatedly over the course of up to a year.
Furthermore, 57 per cent of businesses involved in the survey noticed that former IT employees still had access, but failed to take action to cut them off.
Keith Maskell, country manager at Protected Networks, criticised the "astonishingly liberal attitude of UK businesses to managing access to data on the corporate network" saying that this lax attitude creates "a serious vulnerability that can be exploited later by hackers".
While this failure to properly manage access rights is a serious oversight on the part of businesses, those still accessing their ex-employer's systems may be breaking the law.
Frank Jennings, a lawyer and partner at Wallace LLP, told IT Pro: "The Computer Misuse Act 1990 ... prohibits unauthorised access to any program or data held in any computer and anyone convicted of this could be liable to pay a fine and could face up to two years in prison.
"If someone accesses their former employer's system with the knowledge or help of their new employer, that could give rise to liability for the new employer under the CMA."
Mark Taylor, a partner with law firm Osborne Clarke, agreed.
"Any criminal liability under the Act would sit primarily sits with the relevant individuals (and not their past employer)," Taylor said.
"However, if an individual is using such access for the benefit of a new employer or at their new employer's behest, then liability may also attach to them. Consequently, new employers should be careful that they are not encouraging or facilitating such access."
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Jane McCallion is ITPro's deputy editor, specializing in cloud computing, cyber security, data centers and enterprise IT infrastructure. Before becoming Deputy Editor, she held the role of Features Editor, managing a pool of freelance and internal writers, while continuing to specialise 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.