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Former Employees Data Theft

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DateTuesday, May 12, 2009


Whilst one of the unfortunate consequences of this tough economic environment is the loss of staff by redundancy, another less obvious consequence is the prospect of former staff stealing data to establish competing companies. Relatively low-level events such as contractual and employment disputes and data theft are very common and, if not handled properly, can cause considerable direct and indirect losses to organisations.



Recently, three Dublin IT workers were suspected of having stolen information from their former employer, using it to develop a competing product and approach the company's existing clients. The employer's solicitors called in IT Security company Espion to establish whether or not the ex-employees had stolen valuable source code and client lists.



Espion identified several laptop computers which had been previously used by the former employees while in employment at the company. The analysis showed that many sensitive files had been accessed in the days prior to the departure of the former employees, and also established that many of the same files had been accessed on an external device attached to one of the laptops, concluding that these files were copied from the server to this external device.



Colm Murphy, Technical Director with Espion (pictured) said, "In the vast majority of computer related forensic investigations, if individuals are under any form of suspicion, the organisation will need to be able to seize their PCs and make a proper forensic 'image', which produces a precise snapshot of everything on the hard disks, including deleted material which technicians may be able to recover."

"It is essential to show objectively to a court both continuity and integrity of evidence. It is also necessary to demonstrate how evidence has been recovered showing each process. Evidence should be preserved to such an extent that a third party is able to repeat the same process and arrive at the same result as that presented to a court."



The solicitors wrote to the former employees informing them of the organisation's concerns. After various communications, one of the former employees voluntarily produced an USB Disk Drive, giving permission to the organisation to inspect the disk for the presence of any data relating to the issue.



Espion performed a forensic analysis and ascertained that it had been recently formatted, and contained no data of interest. However, a more detailed forensic analysis using specialised tools allowed Espion to recover a large number of files from the disk that had been deleted and produced an 'Evidentiary Report' detailing the findings. Based on this report, the law firm produced a letter to each of the former employees, notifying them of the findings and the consequences of their actions.



The three former employees quickly ceased trading, and permitted further searches of their personal computer equipment to provide assurance that they did not retain any additional data belonging to their former employer.



Of course, competition for most companies is a fact of business life but should not be tolerated if the competitor is competing using untoward methods. Specialised forensic tools and techniques can help companies prove unfair competition from ex-employees, according to IT security specialists Espion.



"Computer Forensics, if performed by trained experienced professionals, can offer compelling evidence that can bring about a swift conclusion to the most threatening of situations," adds Murphy.




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