A senior corporate executive leaves the company, taking with him his framed family photographs, his prized gold pen-and-pencil set -- and the passwords of several hundred employees.
One of your firm's most experienced sales reps hears a rumour that she is sure to be laid off. And she is, but before she gets her P45 at the beginning of the next quarter, she manages to download to her Gmail account a long list of A-plus customers and their ordering and payment histories.
If you're thinking "Never at my company" or "Not my employees," think again . Scenarios like those above are playing out every day, experts say, and even the most trusted and skilled professionals can be driven to data theft and other computer crimes in the face of crippling economic pressures and looming job layoffs.
Recent statistics bear this out. In a late 2008 survey conducted by IT security firm Cyber-Ark Software, 56% of financial services workers in New York, London and Amsterdam admitted to being worried about layoffs. In preparing for the worst, more than half said they had already downloaded competitive corporate data that they planned to use to get their next jobs.
"When people are desperate to pay for the roof over their head or put food on the table, they're capable of doing things they wouldn't normally do, which is why crime goes up when the economy suffers," says David Griffeth, vice president of business line integration and reporting at RBS Citizens Bank.
"That doesn't go away because you have a bachelor's degree or a master's degree. It's a common fear based on need. You have a different level of comfort with the crime you commit."
Supply and Demand
"It makes sense that [data] theft is on the rise when demand is low and supply is high. Right now, there's a huge supply of employees, and if one person can make himself more attractive to a potential new employer, it would be a great temptation," says Keith Jones, a digital forensics investigator and partner at Jones Dykstra & Associates, a computer security consultancy.
Meanwhile, the legion of laid-off workers continues to grow. In the past few months, Citigroup, SAP, Sun Microsystems, IBM, Sprint and Microsoft have all announced layoffs, adding to the tens of thousands of already unemployed people, many of whom are technically savvy and have access to key computer systems, highly sensitive corporate data or both.
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