Employee data theft is a serious threat faced by a wide range of organizations.  Departing employees, for example, often steal a company’s most critical and sensitive information.  Not surprisingly, security incidents of this nature tend to have far-reaching consequences beyond those of a traditional data breach.   

The Complex Motivations Behind Data Theft

The motivations behind such theft are varied and often complex. Some individuals, motivated by malice or personal gain, will often steal customer lists or valuable trade secrets. These are typically disgruntled employees or those moving to a competitor, looking to leverage this knowledge for their own benefit.

Not all instances of data theft, however, are rooted in a clear intent to harm. Some employees, especially those deeply involved in their work, might feel a sense of ownership over the information they have helped to create or manage. They may not see their actions as theft, but rather as taking something they believe they have a right to own. This mindset, though not malicious in nature, can still have a serious impact on an organization’s security and competitive advantage.

Proactive Strategies: Creating an Employee Exit Plan

Combatting this threat effectively involves creating a well-structured employee exit strategy. This is not just a reactionary measure, but a forward-thinking approach that prepares the organization to handle departures in a way that minimizes risk and safeguards sensitive information.

An employee exit strategy is a comprehensive plan designed to manage the process of someone leaving an organization. It’s much more than a simple checklist of tasks to be completed on their last day. Rather, it’s a holistic approach that encompasses various aspects of an employee’s departure, from the moment they announce their resignation to the final stages of their exit.

The primary aim of this strategy is to protect the organization from potential risks associated with departures. It includes measures to ensure that departing employees do not take sensitive information or intellectual property belonging to the organization.

Key Elements of an Employee Exit Strategy

Timely Access Revocation: Ensuring that the departing employee’s access to company systems, databases, and physical locations is revoked as early as possible.

Enhanced Data Security Measures: Safeguarding sensitive information by monitoring and managing the transfer of data during the notice period.

In-depth Exit Interviews: Conducting thorough exit interviews to understand the employee’s reasons for leaving and to remind them of the policy and their obligations regarding company data.

Legal and Contractual Compliance: Making sure that all legal and contractual obligations are met, which may include prompt return of company property and acknowledging any existing post-employment restrictions.

Project Continuity Assurance: Ensuring that the employee’s departure does not disrupt ongoing projects or operations, which may involve knowledge transfer.

Activate Enhanced Audit Logging:  Instead of depending solely on Default audit logging, opt for Enhanced Logging if it’s available in your systems and cloud platforms. Security and event logs play a crucial role in investigations, and enabling this feature in advance can pay dividends should an incident occur.

Secure Handling of Company Computers and Physical Media: Implementing stringent procedures for the return and examination of company-issued computers and devices. This may include forensic preservation and analysis to uncover evidence of unauthorized data transfer.

Regular Training on Policies and Procedures: Regularly conducting comprehensive training sessions on data security policies and procedures specific to this issue is critical. Such training should clearly cover employee obligations related to data handling and the potential consequences for unauthorized transfer.

Emphasizing Communication and Transparency

The primary objective of an employee exit strategy is not to play a game of ‘gotcha’ with departing team members or to cast unwarranted suspicion. Rather, its goal is to proactively identify and prevent potential data theft and security breaches, thereby safeguarding the interests of both the organization and its employees.

It’s about creating a culture of responsibility and awareness, where protecting sensitive information is seen as a collective duty. This approach not only helps in preventing data theft but also fosters a sense of mutual respect and trust.

To accomplish this goal, the exit strategy must be executed with fairness and transparency. The process should be clearly communicated to all personnel, emphasizing that it is a standard procedure, not a reflection of distrust towards any individual. By doing so, the organization can prevent misunderstandings and maintain a positive work environment when an employee leaves the organization.

Ultimately, this strategy serves as a preventative measure that benefits all parties involved. It protects the organization from potential insider threats while also guiding departing employees away from actions that could lead to serious legal consequences. In today’s digital age, where information is both an asset and a liability, such a strategy is not just advisable—it’s essential.