Prepare In Advance For Possibility of Cyber Crime

by Bob Hansen, Owner of Computer Forensic Investigations, Inc.


Cyber crime has been reported by the news media for well over a decade. It often includes the theft of confidential data and intellectual properties. Many are familiar with the stealing of U.S. trade secrets by overseas competitors, the theft of the entertainment industry’s movies and music, and the very frequent theft of credit card account information. But there is another type of theft occurring and more often than not it is not in the news. Theft of confidential data and intellectual properties by employees is on the rise and it is costing businesses billions of dollars in lost revenues.

As a computer forensic investigator, the majority of my casework has changed to looking for evidence of former employees taking what is not theirs.

Intellectual property is property that derives from the work of an individual’s mind or intellect. But, work created by an employee, as part of his or her job, is different. The employer, not the employee, is considered the legal author and owner.

Technology has made it much easier for employees to steal an employer’s protected data. Data theft has evolved from an employee e-mailing a few confidential files to a personal email account, to wirelessly downloading thousands of files to mobile devices, to theft of a company’s entire set of business records.

Over the last decade, the use of USB devices for the theft of confidential information has dramatically increased. Small portable data storage devices such as USB flash drives and USB hard drives allow for the very rapid copying of thousands of files. The use of USB devices can be prevented, but most employers, especially small- to mid-sized businesses, are not aware of how to protect one of their most valuable assets – their business information.

The cloud, the use of centralized Internet data storage and access, is the latest convenient method for employees to take an employer’s records, copying the data to the employee’s personal storage account. Unlike the use of a USB storage device, theft via the cloud occurs with less risk of a witness noticing the theft.

Cloud storage providers such as Apple’s iCloud, Dropbox, Google Drive and Microsoft’s OneDrive are frequent subjects of my investigations. Solutions to deny access to these cloud service providers are available for employers, but again, they not on the majority of employer’s radar.

Confidential information in the possession of employees starting their own business or going to work for a competitor can be lethal. Not only can the theft of intellectual property be the cause of lost income, but on multiple occurrences, despite substantial evidence, I have witnessed it as a significant contributing factor for organizations going out of business.

Theft of confidential information and intellectual properties is commonly referred to as “intangible property” and typically is not covered by standard business insurance policies. Businesses may wish to check with their insurance agent to determine their coverage situation and the cost to obtain coverage.

Many of you will remember the Fram Oil filter advertising slogan: “You can pay me now, or pay me later.” Protecting your organization’s confidential data by restricting employee use of USB devices, wireless devices and personal cloud storage access is synonymous to regularly changing your oil and much less expensive than an engine rebuild.

This article was published in the November 2104 issue of Business North