The ‘Insider Threat’ – Who’s Your Most Successful Competitor…?

Michael D. Moberly   August 8, 2008

It’s an unfortunate reality, but one that company’s must face in respectful, practical, and legally defensible ways, that is, ‘insiders’ (employees) are, with growing frequency, a company’s most consistent, aggressive, and successful competitor! 

Insiders are stealing, misappropriating, infringing, and selling their employer’s proprietary – competitive advantage information, trade secrets, and intellectual property (IP) at a pace that’s not fully conveyed by merely counting the number of (state, federal) criminal or civil charges filed or terminations executed. 

So, why am I suggesting the probability that the insider issue be ratcheted up to become a higher priority for companies?  Well, there are four credible answers to that question:

1. It’s an indisputable economic fact – business reality that today 75+% of most companies’ value, sources of revenue and future wealth creation evolve directly from its intangible assets which include IP, proprietary know how, trade secrets, competitive advantages, strategic plans, etc.!

2. The time frames (windows) when companies’ can effectively extract – exploit value from those assets is routinely being compressed do, in large part, to the hyper-competitive, predatorial, winner-take-all global business environment!

3. Stealing proprietary information is unfortunately, still relatively easy to accomplish, and the probability of an employee getting caught ‘in the act’ so to speak, or the loss being noticed in reasonably close time proximity, while becoming more favorable, seldom compares to the immediacy of the considerable economic-competitive advantage pain the loss can cause!

4.  The ASIS Trends In Proprietary Information Loss Survey, the Annual Report To the President on Economic Espionage by the National Counterintelligence Executive, the FBI Director, and various other national voices and credible studies find that U.S. companies lose between $50 billion and perhaps as much as $200 billion annually from theft and misappropriation of trade secrets, proprietary information, and intellectual property!

There are two conceptual starting points, in my judgment, for addressing this phenomena:

1. Coming to grips with the reality that stealing a company’s proprietary information is seldom the product of the ‘one bad apple’ theory!  Rather, as learned from my own experiences and from numerous current studies, particularly those conducted by PERSEREC (Personnel Security Research Center, DoD) and Carnegie Mellon’s CERT unit, insider theft represents a persistent problem that literally permeates companies’ ranks of employees.

2. The focus (for addressing insider issues) shouldn’t always be on who’s doing it, because we already know it’s very likely to be an ‘insider’ in some form or fashion, rather companies’ must focus on their vulnerabilities and the fact that it can and will occur!

One thing remains clear in my judgment, continuing to rely on snap-shot-in-time honesty-integrity (types of) pre-employment screeing assessments that are oriented more toward projecting an employee’s proclivity for stealing tangible-physical assets, i.e., desk staplers, rather than ultra-valuable proprietary information are unacceptable and no match for the stealthy practices of insiders’ bent on doing their company economic harm!


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