Make sure ex-employees don’t walk out the door with your data

Employee turnover is a fact of life. It’s hard enough to make sure proprietary information and sensitive data are properly protected when a person works for the company. Enforcing security policies with ex or soon-to-be-ex employees can be nearly impossible. It’s important to have tools in place that enable the organization to monitor the data the employee has access to, and review recent activity to determine if there is anything to be concerned about.

The scenario of a disgruntled employee stealing corporate data when leaving the company has received national attention recently due to ongoing litigation between the venture capital firm TPG Capital LP and Adam Levine, a former spokesperson for the firm. TPG is suing Levine and alleges that he stole confidential documents and other sensitive media after being denied a promotion.

According to a story from Reuters, “TPG is seeking to recover confidential and proprietary information that it believes Levine may have, an injunction blocking him from distributing or destroying that information, and compensatory damages.”

Notice that TPG believes Levine “may have” confidential and proprietary information. It apparently doesn’t know for sure. Shouldn’t it know?

Mike Tierney, COO for SpectorSoft, shared, “Case data shows that an organization’s risk is greatest at the point of employee termination. Combine a departing employee with the fact that they were disgruntled, and you have a perfect recipe for problems.”

Tierney suggests that human resources get involved as soon as an employee announces an intent to leave or receives notice of termination. HR should review confidentiality and IP (intellectual property) agreements with the employee.

Those efforts are more or less legal “CYA”, though. They do little to actually prevent data from being taken by an employee who has already decided to do so—either to gain favor with a new employer, or simply to harm the company they’re leaving.

In order to provide real protection of corporate data and intellectual property, IT should review the network activity for the departing employee during the 30-day period leading up to the employee announcing or learning that they will be leaving the company. If the employee stays on for a while—as is the case when giving the standard two-week notice—IT should also monitor activity during that period.

Of course, in order to review network activity and behavior over the past 30 days, the organization first must have the tools in place that monitor and archive that information. As organizations recognize the increased risk posed by insiders and take steps to mitigate or minimize that risk, it makes sense to implement a system to log online activity and alert IT managers about suspicious behavior.

Tierney stressed, “Organizations need to consider all insiders who are giving indications of being disgruntled, or that they are getting ready to leave, as high risk, and make sure that their digital actions are monitored to protect the company."

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