Employee Data Theft: How to Identify It, Examples, and How to Prevent It

You trust your employees, but what if one does the unthinkable? Employee data theft is a growing problem, and you must prevent it.

9 Steps to Protect Your Data Against Insider Theft

You’ve spent money on your data security measures. You’ve invested in protecting your systems and databases from cyberattacks. Your systems and databases have a safety shield that is designed to thwart even the most dedicated cybercriminal. Your data is protected. Isn’t it?

We wish we could tell you it is. But one of the biggest threats to your security is much closer to home. More than a third of businesses are affected by insider threats. 

While around 62% of security incidents were caused by negligent employees in 2020, employee data theft cases are a big concern for many firms. 

What makes employees steal data from their employers? 

According to a Fortinet survey, fraud, financial gain, and IP theft are the three biggest motivations behind malicious employee theft of confidential information.

In this article, we take a dive into the threat that is under your nose. We look at a couple of the most famous cases of employee data breaches, how you can identify a breach, and how to stop data theft in nine steps.

What is employee data theft?

Data theft is a broad term that includes any unauthorized access to data or theft of information. Employee data theft happens when an employee intentionally or unintentionally steals company data and shares it with a third party. 

However it is perpetrated, an employee data breach and theft of sensitive data can lead to identity theft, credit fraud, and financial losses caused by loss of intellectual property.

2 Famous employee data theft cases

Even the biggest companies get caught by their employees. Here are two of the most famous cases of data theft by employees (and there are hundreds of cases we could discuss):

  • Shopify

Two rogue support team employees stole customer transactional records. One of the merchants that Shopify contacted about the theft of data said that 4,900 of its customer records were affected. More than 200 companies were notified of exposure to the breach.

  • Tesla

You wouldn’t think that Elon Musk’s company would be among those that have suffered employee data theft, but it is. And quite spectacularly, too.

An employee wrote code to export company data, including some serious IP, financials, and manufacturing processes. The employee also put the code on three other computer systems in the company, so data would continue to be exported after he left Tesla.

How to identify an employee data breach

Once the problem is understood and accepted as a serious issue, an organization can take steps to prevent data theft of sensitive information. The first of these steps is to instigate measures to identify employee data breaches:

  • Have alerts for large file transfers across encrypted servers

Encryption software is used to secure data in transit and data at rest. Without the decryption key, sensitive data cannot be read. Plus, password protection should stop unauthorized access to sensitive data. 

But we’re not talking about unauthorized access. We’re talking about your employees, and perhaps ex-employees. So, the key is to think about how people might steal data ─ and it’s probably going to be in volume. So be alert to large file transfers across your servers and from one storage device to another.

  • Use Word alert notifications

Microsoft Office helps protect you with alerts when malicious links are included in documents that employees are working on. Make sure that employees don’t turn these off.

  • Data exfiltration alerts

Data exfiltration is a term to describe the unauthorized removal or movement of data from a device. Ensure that you instigate data exfiltration alerts across your IT infrastructure.

  • Monitor hard copies

It’s not only digital data that is at risk. One of the easiest ways for departing employees to steal data is by printing the data and removing a hard copy. Put in place procedures, systems, and software that alert managers to data being printed, and keep detailed records of hard copies.

  • Encourage whistleblowing

To prevent data theft, employees must feel empowered to blow the whistle on irresponsible and malicious behavior. Data protection is not simply an issue of security measures, it’s a cultural issue, too.

How to prevent employee data theft

As the wise person said, prevention is better than cure. It’s also much more cost-effective, will preserve your reputation, and help to maintain the trust of your customers. Here are the 10 steps to take to prevent employees from stealing your data.

  1. Determine what data is most critical to secure

Identifying your most important data can be quite difficult, but it is not impossible. It is crucial, though. Unless you know what must be protected, you cannot protect it.

  1. Prioritize your security measures

It’s essential to prioritize which data is to be most closely monitored. A good rule to follow is to categorize by restricted data, sensitive data (confidential data, such as social security numbers), internal data, and public data.

  1. Identify sensitive data and its location

Sensitive data can be found in many places across company networks. It’s important to know where it is and its current state.

  1. Implement non-disclosure and confidentiality clauses in employment contracts

Make it plain from the very beginning of employment that all your data is sacrosanct. It shouldn’t be shared, discussed, or worked on in any way that contravenes company policies and procedures.

  1. Establish clear security policies

Security policies provide the foundation of data protection. It’s important to establish and maintain clear security policies. To do so, understand the risks that are associated with different types of data and how these metrics can be used to build an effective security policy.

  1. Monitor employee activity around sensitive data

Monitoring employee activity around sensitive data is key to preventing data theft. This can be achieved by implementing automated alerts across your IT infrastructure and creating alerts based on your data categorization.

  1. Use technology to monitor and prevent access to sensitive data, and analyze user behavior

You should ensure that strong passwords are used, that an effective password manager program is employed, and that multifactor authentication is required on all your systems. Encryption software will help to secure sensitive data, and it’s also crucial to use software to monitor and prevent access to sensitive data ─ as well as to identify unusual behavior.

  1. Prepare a disaster response plan

No preventative measure is 100% effective, especially against employees who have access to your most sensitive data. Therefore, it’s crucial to prepare for a worst-case scenario. You must have a disaster recovery response plan in place, to ensure that any damage is limited and your business can continue to operate.

  1. Back up your data regularly

Regular backups are essential in any business, but you should also make sure that you know where your data is backed up. Backing up off-site will give an extra protective player.

  1. Put in place a structured exit process for departing employees

It is important to have a proper exit process for employees leaving your company. It helps to protect your company’s data and ensures that the employee’s data is removed from the system ─ and that you don’t become another company from which an ex-employee stole data.

The key is your data loss prevention strategy

An effective data loss prevention strategy is key to capturing employee data theft and preventing it from damaging your business.

When was the last time you assessed your data loss prevention strategy? Is it comprehensive enough to protect your business against rogue employees? Are your people and system policies strong enough?

Discover if your business is properly protected before an employee does the unthinkable. Contact Millennium Tech today, and we’ll show you how we can help protect your company against employee data theft and ensure your cybersecurity is effective in all aspects.

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