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Last Updated: Sunday, 15 February, 2004, 07:31 GMT
Workplace data theft runs rampant
Escape key, BBC
Employees often steal data when leaving a post
Office technology makes it much easier for workers to steal important information from their employers, a study has shown.

Research into intellectual property theft found that almost 70% of people have stolen key information from work.

The most pilfered items include e-mail address books, customer databases as well as proposals and presentations.

Many of those questioned said they used office e-mail to get the stolen information off company premises.

Lost prospects

Most of those stealing important information said they did so when they were leaving a firm to take up a new job.

The majority of those questioned, 72%, had no ethical problems stealing information to help them in a new post. Most, 58%, thought that, in moral terms, it ranked with exaggerating insurance claims.

"The surprising thing is the level to which people believe this is acceptable," said Chris Watson of data forensics firm Ibas, which commissioned the survey.

He said that many thought that they were entitled to take information with them because they had helped win customers and create databases of sales leads.

"They have invested a lot of time putting it together and that's why they feel they have ownership of it," he said. Over 80% of those surveyed said this input justifted their theft.

Workers are not just stealing pencils anymore
"The classic case is in sales environments where the contacts database is taken from one company to another even if it is not relevant to that business," he said.

The survey found that 30% of people had stolen a contact database when they left an employer.

"When people used to leave a company they would take a few pencils with them," he said, "but the computer age is taking it on to a new level."

Many of those stealing from companies send the purloined data to their personal e-mail account held at home or on the web. A small number, 21%, burned the information onto CDs.

The survey also revealed some gender biases. Women were 20% more likely to think that taking key documents and files was acceptable but men were 28% more likely to go through with the theft.

Mr Watson said filtering tools on e-mail servers could catch some of the intellectual property thieves but just as important were well-enforced policies that reminded employees of their obligations and responsibilities.

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