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Commentary

Why Do Workers Steal Data?

I was fascinated by Sharon Gaudin's recent article reporting that 45% of professionals steal data when they leave their jobs. I couldn't help wondering why they do it. A desire to suck up to their new supervisors? A sense of grievance against the company that they're leaving? Or just because they can?
I was fascinated by Sharon Gaudin's recent article reporting that 45% of professionals steal data when they leave their jobs. I couldn't help wondering why they do it. A desire to suck up to their new supervisors? A sense of grievance against the company that they're leaving? Or just because they can?I'm afraid that I can understand the temptation in all three cases -- especially number three. I once deleted spyware data that a particularly obnoxious boss left on my PC because I was insulted that it had been installed without my knowledge -- and amazed at how badly it was hidden. It was a case -- probably typical of the situation in many workplaces -- where a badly implemented security system resulted in a system that was less, not more, secure.

In fact, a situation where employers and employees are in opposition to each other, rather than working together, is possibly one of the leading factors that can lead to data theft. At the end of the article, it is reported that "about 42% of respondents said their companies' security is non-existent, not strong enough, the wrong type, or too restrictive." It's likely that they had little to no input into the implementation of that security.

I'm certainly not arguing that nobody steals data from their workplace for financial gain or to get an "in" with a new company. (Or to foment a political coup.) But I would suspect, from what I've observed in my travels through the cubicles of various companies, that a lot of trouble could be avoided if employers invested in solid security products that prevented important company data from being unnecessarily copied -- without making it so restrictive that employees can't do their jobs.

One way to help keep information in-house is to make it possible for employees to go home and not be expected to continue their employment there. According to a Dice poll, 38% of IT professionals say they are "doing work related tasks all the time." I strongly suspect that they're trying to stay ahead in a very competitive work environment. In that kind of arena, the temptation to bring work home -- in the form of documents that probably shouldn't be moved off the main server -- can be nearly overwhelming. If workers feel encouraged to leave their work in the office, they'll leave the data in the office as well.

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