From the December-January 2009 issue of Treasury & Risk magazine

Beware of Memory Sticks

As the specter of layoffs looms large, so does the temptation to steal corporate secrets--making data security a high priority in risky times, industry watchers say. Fearful workers hope to trade confidential information for new jobs at competing organizations. Others pilfer out of spite. "Motivation is strong in recessionary times," says Mark Lobel, a PricewaterhouseCoopers security expert. Strong motivation, combined with moral rationalization and easy access, are key factors spurring workers to snoop around for sensitive data, says Lobel. "You can't do much about motivation and rationalization, but you can cut off access," he says. He recommends clients do just that.

And they should, according to the results of a recent Cyber-Ark Software survey. Seventy-one percent of 600 office workers polled in New York City, London and Amsterdam acknowledged they "definitely" would steal corporate data if faced with immediate firing. Many don't wait to get the boot.

The survey, The Global Recession and its Effects on Work Ethics, revealed that 58 percent of U.S. respondents already have downloaded sensitive data, less than the 71 percent in Amsterdam but more than the 40 percent in London.

"The damage that insiders can do should not be underestimated," says Adam Bosnian, Cyber-Ark vice president of products, strategy and sales.

The most pirated booty, Bosnian says, includes customer and contact databases, company plans and proposals, product information and access/password codes. Memory sticks are the smallest, easiest, cheapest and least traceable method of downloading huge chunks of data.

Others said they would employ online, encrypted storage websites, DVDs, smart phones, cameras, SKYPE and/or iPods to lift the data. Interestingly, 7 percent of the London workers said they would memorize information to take with them when they leave.

Many companies are heeding the warnings by increasing or at least maintaining their security budgets as cuts are made in other technology spending, says Lobel.

The Cyber-Ark survey bolsters his assessment. Seventy-one percent of London workers and 48 percent of Amsterdam workers report stricter security, compared with only 38 percent in the United States.

That's cause for concern, says Lobel. Bosnian of Cyber-Ark, which sells privileged identity management systems to guard against theft, agrees. "With a faltering economy resulting in increased jobs cuts, deferred promotions and additional stress, companies need to be especially vigilant about protecting their most sensitive data against nervous or disgruntled employees," he says.

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