Workers steal data to help friends and family find jobs

23 Nov 2009

The global recession is leading to a dangerous new phenomenon whereby employees are stealing sensitive data to help secure a new job while others are passing on sensitive data to help friends or family members get a job.

The recession is creating camaraderie amongst workforces, at the expense of their employers, a transatlantic survey has found.

Carried out amongst 600 office workers in Canary Wharf, London, and Wall Street, New York, 41pc of workers have already taken sensitive data with them to their new position, whilst a third would pass on company information if it proved useful in getting friends or family a job.

Pilfering data has become endemic in our culture, as 85pc of people admit they know it’s illegal to download corporate information from their employer but almost half couldn’t stop themselves taking it with them, with the majority admitting it could be useful in the future!

Is is the employers’ fault?

However, it would seem employers have only themselves to blame as they appear pretty lackadaisical when it comes to protecting their data from their employees, with 57pc of respondents stating it’s become a lot easier to take sensitive information from under their bosses’ noses this year, up from 29pc last year.

The survey, entitled The Global Recession and its Effect on Work Ethics, carried out for a second year in the US and UK by Cyber-Ark – the Privileged Account Management specialists, found that almost half of the respondents (48pc) admit if they were fired tomorrow they would take company information with them and 39pc of people would download company/competitive information if they got wind that their job was at risk.

Additionally, a quarter of workers said the recession has meant they feel less loyal towards their employer.

Number of work hours

It would seem that desperate times call for desperate measures as workers are also prepared to do almost anything to keep their jobs. In the UK, just more than a quarter of employees are prepared to work 80 hours a week to keep their jobs, which is surprisingly higher than our US counterparts, with just 12pc in the US suggesting they would work that much harder to keep their job.

Conversely, it’s interesting to note that 20pc of UK workers are prepared to take a salary cut to keep their jobs compared with a staggering 50pc of US workers.

Of those that plan to take competitive or sensitive corporate data, 64pc will do so “just in case” it were to prove useful or advantageous in the future, 27pc would use it to negotiate their new position, while 20pc plan to use it as a tool in their new job.

Top of the hit list is customer and contact details – 29pc, then plans and proposals – 18pc, with product information bringing up the rear – 11pc.

Network access off-site

What is cause for alarm is the 13pc of savvy pilferers who would take access and password codes as, with this information, they can still get into the network once they’ve left the company and continue downloading information and accessing whatever they want or need.

Some 32pc revealed they would do their utmost to take a peek at the redundancy list to find out if their name was on it, choosing to bribe a mate in the HR department first – 43pc, followed by using their own IT access rights to snoop around the network – 37pc, and if this failed they would get a mate in the IT department to try and get the inside track – 30pc!

“While we are seeing glimmers of hope in the UK and US economy, clearly employee confidence has been rocked,” Mark Fullbrook, UK director of Cyber-Ark explained.

“This survey shows that many workers are willing to do practically anything to ensure job security or make themselves more marketable – including committing a crime. While there is no excuse for employees who are willing to compromise their ethics to save their job, much of the responsibility for protecting sensitive proprietary data is the responsibility of the employer.

“Organisations must be willing to make improvements to how they monitor and control access to databases, networks and systems, even by those privileged users who have legitimate rights. Additional protection can be added with simple steps like frequently changing passwords and only granting access to certain information on-demand,” Fullbrook said.

The weapon of choice which people would use to download information onto remains a USB or memory stick, then printing it out onto paper, followed by emailing it to oneself comes a close third.

“The most astonishing statistic is that people in the UK are now less worried about their losing their jobs – 26pc compared with 46pc in 2008, or perhaps those that were worried are no longer employed to answer this year!”

By John Kennedy

Photo: A USB or memory stick is the top pick when it comes to downloading sensitive data from the office for one’s own use, The Global Recession and its Effect on Work Ethics survey suggests.

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years