Published here May 2009.


Musings Index

Is Your Project at Risk from the "Economic Downturn"?

In the present climate of economic downturn, is your project at risk from departing employees? The chances are that it is, not just from the loss of key workers but also from the loss of the critical information that they may take with them. Of course, you are already protecting against this as best you can by insisting on documentation and regular back up of all data, right? However, it is much more difficult to consistently capture not only absolutely-up-to-the-minute progress, but also the underlying thought patterns that go with the latest technical thinking.

A recent survey into "The global recession and its effect on work ethics" was carried out by Cyber-Ark's team of researchers amongst 226 office workers on Wall Street, New York.[1] The report, 22nd December 08, reads as follows.[2]

Companies warned to safeguard competitive and sensitive data from disgruntled employees being laid off

"Fifty eight percent of office workers faced with being laid off or given the sack admit they will take valuable data with them, if they could get away with it! The majority are downloading sensitive company secrets right now under their bosses nose in anticipation that they could lose their job. That's the findings of a survey by IT security experts Cyber-Ark from research they carried out into 'The recession and its effects on work ethics' amongst 226 office workers on New York's busy Wall Street.

Workers scheming behind their boss's backs

57% of workers who admit to already downloading competitive corporate data will use it as a negotiating tool to secure their next post, as they know the information will be very useful to future employers.

Top of the list of desirable information that is currently being extracted from employers is the customer and contact databases, with plans and proposals, product information, and access / password codes all proving popular choices. HR records and legal documents were the least most favored data that employees were interested in taking.

Being laid off is a sore word and rumors that they were looming would send 57% of workers scurrying about prepared to do anything to try and obtain the redundancy list. Seventy percent said they'd try using their own IT access rights to snoop around the network and, if this failed, they'd consider bribing a 'mate' in the IT department to do it for them or bribe their friends in HR.

Memory Sticks the 'Weapon of Choice'

Memory sticks are the smallest, easiest, cheapest and least traceable method of downloading huge amounts of data, which is why this is often considered the 'weapon of choice'. Other methods were photocopying, emailing, CDs, online encrypted storage websites, Smartphones, DVDs, cameras, SKYPE, iPods and, rather randomly yet quite disconcerting, 7% said they'd try and memorize the important data!

Adam Bosnian, VP of Products, Strategy and Sales of Cyber-Ark says, 'The damage that insiders can do should not be underestimated. It can take just a few minutes for an entire database that has taken years to build to be copied to a CD or USB stick. With a faltering economy resulting in increased jobs cuts, deferred promotions and additional stress, companies need to be especially vigilant about protecting their most sensitive data against nervous or disgruntled employees. Our advice is only allow access to sensitive information to those that really need it, lock it away in a digital vault and encrypt the really sensitive data,' adds Bosnian.

62% of USA workers admitted that it was easy to sneak company information out of the office."

To Be Fair

The issue is, of course, what sort of information? Sneaking away with proprietary information under license, for example, is obviously a no-no. But to be fair, all employees, especially those in the project management field, need to keep records of their efforts, their successes and failures, their unique solutions to unique situations, their personal diary, all as essential parts of their career records. You will need it, if not to secure your next project position, certainly you will need it to help solve similar problems on your next project. It is a part of your "continuous learning". You should not have to reinvent the wheel just because you were given the sack because of the economic downturn.

So, consider the old scout's motto: "Be prepared!" - that little "pink slip" can come very suddenly and require your exit at very short notice as we have learned from personal experience![3]

1. To view the full report visit Cyber-Ark's website at:
2. Received by Email from Yvonne Eskenzi 12/22/08
3. The management thinking behind this brutal management "exit at short notice" strategy apparently is that management expects firees to be disgruntled, perhaps not surprisingly, and it is best to get it over as quickly as possible. Occasionally, some may even take a cynical satisfaction from it. Others see it as a way to limit potential vengeful retaliation. Whatever the thinking, it rarely protects the organization against loss of essential information. After all, the most important information is in the brain of the departing employee.
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