Unfortunately, one day you find out that your employee has been leaking trade secrets to a competitor – this damages not only your company but also your own reputation. The good news is that there are ways to protect yourself from such breaches by implementing policies, procedures, and safeguards.
The rapid shift to digital work is happening so quickly, it’s hard to know what’s possible for your company. The benefits are many – increased productivity, happier employees, lower cost of living. But before you take the plunge, there are some considerations to be made. One of these is cyber security. You may have heard that remote working increases the risk for data theft and other security breaches. That is correct. You have less control over where your data is stored and how many others have access to it when you operate remotely.
Trade secrets are any form of information that gives your business an edge over others in the marketplace. Ideas, know-how, technologies, processes, and other items can all be considered trade secrets. Essentially, trade secrets are anything important to your business that has been kept hidden from the public by confidentiality agreements or other reasons. Business procedures, client lists, formulas, manufacturing processes, software code, and technical data are only a few of the forms of trade secrets that exist.
Theft of trade secrets can cause serious financial damage to a business. Trade secret theft has cost businesses an estimated $500 billion in the past five years, and this number is only going to grow as we become more and more reliant on digital information.
There are several steps that you can take to protect your confidential data from being stolen by employees who are working remotely:
· Implement policies and procedures for remote workers that include requirements for password protection, encryption, and firewalls.
· Require all employees who work remotely to use secure VPNs when accessing company networks from public Wi-Fi hotspots or other unsecured locations.
· Classification of data and communications as sensitive, confidential, public etc. would help with focussed efforts in safeguarding the crown jewels of the company.
· Implement a Data Privacy & Governance Framework and restrict access to confidential data to those employees who have a need-to-know.
· Use data loss prevention (DLP), Cloud Access Security Broker (CASB) tools to monitor and protect your confidential data.
· Educate employees on the importance of protecting company trade secrets and how to identify phishing attacks.
· For extremely sensitive information, use biometric facial recognition software that will lock the computer if an unauthorised user is recognised or if the software detects the use of a mobile phone camera to take a picture of the screen.
· Route all internet traffic from employee machines through the company’s firewall and monitor unusual traffic and access to sites.
· Identify critical assets and implement layered security based on Defence-in-Depth principle.
One of the ways to detect possible espionage is by monitoring your competition. Keep an eye on what they’re doing and how they’re doing it. If you notice anything suspicious, such as a competitor that’s been hiring more talent than usual, or that they’ve been asking your employees for far more information about your business during an interview, or if you see a unique product or technology feature launched by the competitor which is very similar to yours. Be wary of their intentions. Of course, you can’t read too much into every situation; but if something doesn’t seem right, pay attention. It’s also important to keep up with any new innovations in your industry and where your competitors are focusing their efforts.
If you suspect that your confidential data has been stolen, you should immediately take steps to investigate the matter and contain the damage. This may include hiring a third-party cyber forensic expert to conduct a forensic analysis of your systems. You should also contact the police and report the incident.
You may also wish to consider taking legal action against the person who stole your confidential data.
If you suspect that an employee has stolen trade secrets, you should contact a lawyer and discuss whether it is appropriate for you to pursue a criminal or civil action against the individual.
The best way to protect your confidential data is by implementing a comprehensive security strategy around staff, policies, procedures, and technology controls. By doing so, you can reduce the risk of a breach and ensure that your business remains competitive in today’s digital age.
The writer is Senior Managing Director – India, Ankura Consulting Group
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