Workers using USB sticks to remove sensitive data

5 Feb 2007

Some 132 million sensitive documents are being taken out of UK offices each week on portable storage devices, a new study has found.

On average, European office workers take 11 confidential documents out of their business weekly, according to the research.

The study of 600 office workers across Europe, conducted by ICM Research on behalf of McAfee, also found that more than a third (37pc) of respondent’s companies have no set policy for handling sensitive documents. In cases where policies do exist, 24pc of employees don’t know what they are.

The research found that employees are increasingly using portable devices including memory sticks and mobile phones to remove confidential data from their businesses.

Web-based mail services and Instant Messaging (IM) are also being used to transfer sensitive information outside of the business. Company email remains the most common means of sending information externally with 86pc admitting to forwarding documents regularly by this method.

Nearly a quarter (23pc) of those that admit to sending documents outside of the business have used IM services to transfer company business plans while one in five have sent company financial information and spreadsheets using IM.

Almost half of office workers are taking financial records (45pc) out of the business using portable storage devices, while over a third are transferring company business plans (38pc) and customer data (34pc). USB sticks prove the most popular choice of portable devices with over a quarter of employees (26pc) regularly using this device to remove information. Some 15pc of office workers have lent these devices to others.

The study also found that employees frequently print out company financial information (83pc), customer records (83pc) and legal contracts (87pc) and over half (54pc) fail to shred confidential documents; one in 10 even admit to frequently leaving the information in the printer tray.

By Niall Byrne