Ex-Workers Leave With More Than Office Supplies

The study, co-authored by researchers at Symantec and the Ponemon Institute, a privacy and information management research firm, revealed that the most common records lifted were e-mail lists, employee records, customer information and non-financial data.

The Web-based survey, conducted in January 2009, polled almost 1,000 U.S. workers who had left their employers within the past 13 months.

The study also revealed that many of the data theft incidents could have been avoided had companies implemented better data loss prevention policies and technologies, with a large majority (82 percent) of employees maintaining that their former company did not perform a document audit or review before they left their job. Meanwhile, 24 percent of respondents said they had access to their employer's computer network after their departure from the company.

In addition, the study found that 53 percent of respondents downloaded the information onto a CD or DVD, while 42 percent said they pilfered data on a USB drive and 30 percent sent attachments to a personal e-mail account.

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The majority of reported data theft was coupled with 61 percent of respondents who said they have an unfavorable view of their former employer.

"The survey's findings should sound the alarm across all industries: Your sensitive data is walking out the door with your employees," said Larry Ponemon, chairman and founder of the Ponemon Institute, in a statement. "Even if layoffs are not imminent, companies need to be more aware of who has access to sensitive business information. Our research suggests that a great deal of data loss is preventable through the use of clear policies, better communication with employees and adequate controls on data access."