A very timely article over at Computerworld that identifies a faltering economy as a circumstance that leads to greater theft of trade secrets and destruction of sensitive information. The article states that companies should be even more vigilant at these times to protect their valuable assets from literally walking out the door. Good advice. In fact, companies should always be vigilant about their trade secrets, but especially now there are no excuses not to believe that your own employees (or future layoffs) will one day be competing against you using your own trade secrets, or destroying those very same trade secrets so that they are of no use to anyone.
As it is, one of the biggest threats to corporate data and systems traditionally has come from insiders, who with their privileged access to data and systems, have the potential ability do more accidental or malicious damage than even the outside attacker.
That threat greatly increases at times when companies are laying off staff, cutting back on raises and bonuses, deferring promotions, consolidating operations and outsourcing work to save money.
Remember, as you take steps to keep your company competitive in this very difficult market (layoffs, deferred promotions, no bonuses) you should also keep in mind the emotional state of your employees and how it will affect their actions vis-a-vis your trade secrets.
The article goes on to say: “Tough economic times create uncertainty in the workplace . . . . Employees for instance, can be worried about losing jobs and promotions, concerned about financial liabilities, mortgages and rising energy costs.” Shelley Kirkpatrick, director of assessment services at Management Concepts, a Vienna, Va.-based management consultancy, states: “When there is uncertainty, it creates stress for employees. It makes the company more vulnerable” to threats.
The threats can manifest themselves in a number of ways. Insiders with access to corporate information, such as customer data or corporate secrets, might want to steal or disclose it for financial gain or simply to get back at their companies. Those with technical-savvy might seek to sabotage corporate data and systems by planting malicious code and so-called logic bombs that are designed to delete data at a future date on critical systems.
The danger is not confined to such actions alone. Stressed, unhappy workers make easy targets for opportunistic rivals as well, Kirkpatrick said. “If I am a competitor looking for a good opportunity to get trade secrets out of my competition, I am going to go after the people who may be stressed emotionally,” she said.
It makes sense at this time to re-double efforts to ensure that your trade secrets are adequately protected. Review your trade secrets protection plans and update as necessary as you make the necessary economic decisions that will inevitably affect your employees in a negative way. And if you don’t have a trade secrets protection plan, get one quick and stick to it.