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.

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