My main complaint with how trade secret theft is talked about is the notion that the chief culprits are hackers from China or somewhere similarly opaque.
In reality, most trade secret thieves are homegrown, and the tools of the trade are fairly low-tech. It’s ridiculously easy to slip in a thumb drive and download sensitive documents. Fortunately for companies looking to find their culprits, it’s also usually easy to detect when that’s happened.
Insider theft is so common that the FBI generated this list of red flags. If the items on this list look familiar, it’s a good time to speak up. Know anybody like this?
- They work odd hours without authorization. It’s one thing to work late nights every now and then, but if an employee is consistently working late nights and accessing the company’s server from remote locations, it bears closer monitoring.
- They unnecessarily copy or take proprietary information home via hard copy, thumb drives or email without proper approvals.
- They disregard company policies about installing personal software or hardware, accessing restricted websites, conducting unauthorized searches or downloading confidential material. There’s probably no cause for concern if an employee is downloading Spotify (though there could be reason for concern if they’re streaming Nickelback), but if they’re consistently trying to access blocked websites and downloading unfamiliar software, it’s probably worth closer inspection.
- They take short trips to foreign countries for unexplained reasons. If you’ve seen House of Cards, you know that quick trips to Beijing = illegal business negotiations that earn you a lot of frequent flyer miles.
- They engage in frequent personal contacts with competitors. A certain amount of networking is expected, but regular golf outings with your corporate nemesis are a red flag.
- They buy things they can’t afford. You have an approximate idea of their earnings, and a new G5 or 65-foot custom yacht is probably not in their budget. Bonuses may have been great, but not that
- They’re concerned about being investigated, leaving traps to detect searches of their home or office, or looking for listening devices or cameras. Paranoia doesn’t usually indicate ethical behavior.
If you notice any of these behaviors, it is best to report them to the proper internal teams at your company, and possibly the FBI via their tip site: https://tips.fbi.gov/. Also, find a good attorney to help. I might know a good one.
Photo by Dave Newman