Afraid of your employees taking sensitive company information with them to a new job? I say keep me happy or I’m taking your secrets with me, boss. Kidding. I believe in karma way too much to risk exercising a vindictive streak. Experience has taught me to not provoke fate. Apparently, I’m in the minority though.
According to the Ponemon Institute, an independent research company that conducts studies on privacy, data protection and information security policy, 60% of employees steal information when they leave a job or are fired. 67% of those people take their stolen secrets to a new employer.
We’re not talking the theft of a few post-it notes, pens, or other office supplies here. We’re talking the theft of information. If the videos from The More You Know have taught me anything, it’s that Information is Powerful.
Who’s worried? Not as many people as you might suspect, given the high percentage of sticky fingers out there. Only 15% of employers participating in the Ponemon study conducted a review of digital or paper files departing employees might have taken with them.
If you’re concerned about data security, it’s a good idea to have protective measures in place and protocol established early. Extra measures might be necessary for employees with access to sensitive data potentially very damaging to the company.
Know Your Employees
If a new hire seems overly excited to spill the beans about prior employers, you can expect the blabbermouth will spill your information eagerly down the road. Of course you should keep an eye on such individuals, or reconsider working together before information is put in their hands.
It also pays to keep less karma-fearful employees happy, or at least thinking favorably about the company. Employees are 35% less likely to steal company data if they have positive views of their company.
Detail Confidentiality Expectations
Acceptable and unacceptable uses of company information should be well documented. Explaining the reasoning behind your standards and the necessity for data-controls will increase compliance. Fair and accurate policies will also keep the focus on safeguards rather than give employees the impression that they’re distrusted.
To avoid any confusion, have employees sign a confidentiality agreement. For employees with key roles, a non-compete agreement is another option. Confidentiality agreements let employees know that company secrets are taken seriously, and give employers legal protection should information be mishandled.
Use Technology Controls
Many programs now allow different employees various levels of access to sensitive data. A good place to begin with security is the information itself. Passwords and encryption prevent the wrong eyes from collecting company information to begin with. You might consider installing software on company equipment, i.e. laptops and smart phones, that can remove data remotely.
There is highly sophisticated data loss prevention (DLP) technology available as well. It’s possible to monitor all data and detect security breeches. DLP keeps a close eye on emails, thumb drives, instant messages, file-sharing services, printers, malware–arguably useful even if employee trust isn’t the issue. BeyondTrust and Zscaler are just two companies with such products that monitor equipment including mobile devices.
Treat Exiting Employees Appropriately
Change company passwords to protect data and prevent any mischievous revisiting of Twitter or Facebook pages. Alter or cut off employee access to networks, applications, emails, and physical files as the situation dictates.
True, the employees you lay off or fire are the most likely to be disgruntled and have reason to damage the company. Some would argue that you should escort these individuals out of company offices to make sure that they don’t take anything that doesn’t belong to them. This is a rather sour note to end a relationship on, and may inspire more ill will than existed in the first place. A physical escort seems best left for drastic scenarios, say when another employee is threatened. Again, if you have exit protocols in place upon hiring, conducting an exit interview is a much more civil measure to take when saying goodbye.