IP Confidential: How Digital Forensics Can Protect Trade Secrets and Sensitive Information

Now more than ever, theft of trade secrets and confidential information is widely internal. Technological advancements — not to mention a recent surge of remote working environments in the past few years — have rendered it easier for departing employees to utilize an organization’s valuable proprietary information as a career-based bargaining chip. Despite the prevalent opportunity for employees to steal data, many companies fail to safeguard against employees taking trade secrets and company data out the door with them by a poor chain of custody — or complete lack thereof.

Moreover, some companies forgo conducting digital forensic investigations to ensure sensitive material is secure. Considering the current state of technological affairs in an increasingly active job market across copious industries, it’s crucial for companies to be vigilant in monitoring employee activity and be prepared to act if sensitive information is at risk.

Launch of an Investigation: What Employers Should Do in the Event of Data Theft

Identifying, preserving, collecting, and investigating trade secrets and sensitive information hinge on a company’s action after an employee — or key employees — leave. When foul play is suspected, companies must identify what digital evidence may be available from various data sources, including USB devices, cell phones, and issued laptops. A consultation with digital forensics experts is vital in determining what devices ought to be put under the investigatory microscope. To maintain the digital evidence, a litigation hold should be put in place, meaning the devices in question should not be reallocated to other employees who may overwrite a former employee’s actions determinant in a case. The collection process, in which experienced forensic examiners are paramount, includes myriad forensic imaging and data collection efforts.

Scene(s) of the Crime: A Look Into a Digital Forensic Expert Analysis

Gone are the days of trade secrets being printed on paper and stored in a locked filing cabinet. Compact discs are all but obsolete, as well. With cloud-based storage and ‘personal’ computing equipment being used for contemporary enterprises, proving trade secret theft involves sophisticated forensic software and recovery techniques to exhume the truth — as well as the mistruth — in participant denial. A digital forensic audit may include investigating the following:

  • USB device or storage media to transfer system files
  • Delivery to personal or non-company email addresses
  • Internet history, cloud storage usage, and pertinent search queries
  • Cell phone texts, call history, and metadata
  • Atypical log-in activity or database access
  • Deletion of data or wiping of an employer-issued computer, smartphone, or other electronic device

Considering the fact that these tasks demand time, resourcefulness, and an intimate understanding of forensic analysis, it’s imperative to partner with computer forensics investigators that leave no stone unturned when preserving and collecting digital evidence. Not to mention, handling these matters in-house can usher an entity straight into the pitfalls of DIY evidence collection.

Fortify Your Company’s Intelligence With a Digital Forensic Audit 

Since the inception of the term ‘intellectual property’ came into American legal opinion in the 19th century, the manner in which IP and trade secrets are managed and protected has evolved substantially — with the format of data riding in the transformation’s sidecar. In the modern era, these are predominantly housed digitally as electronically stored information (ESI), increasing the potential for misappropriation of sensitive documents to unauthorized parties outside of the corporate domain. Factor in cloud-based sources for storage and communication, and users are granted even more opportunity for proliferation.

While the hills of the cyber-landscape may have risen over time, its valleys have deepened, as well: the format of these electronic records boosts the potential for leaving an electronic trail of digital evidence that includes artifacts and attempts to transfer company information. In this sense, a computer forensics expert is an invaluable asset in trade secret investigations.

When allegations rise to the surface, a digital forensics expert offers critical infrastructure and investigation guidance for everything from initial scoping to trial support. For more information about Cornerstone Discovery’s role in protecting against data theft or to inquire about a digital forensic audit on behalf of your company or law firm, reach out to our team today.

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