Crime News Service: Intellectual property theft is vastly more common than ransomware and computer hacking in New Zealand. Over 90 per cent of the cases that local cyber-crime expert Brian Eardley-Wilmot deals with involve the theft of companies’ intellectual property, he says.
Speaking at the recent NZ Cyber Security Summit, held in Auckland, the managing director of long-established local company, Computer Forensics NZ, said there had been a lot of media discussion about cyber-crime recently, and rightly so.
“But much of it has been about ransomware and attacks on organisations’ computer systems, with the aim of getting at information, which is then abused. This is happening every day. But it isn’t the only threat – or the biggest one.”
What is not reported to anything like the same extent, says Eardley-Wilmot, is what he calls “the enemy within”.
“Not a lot of publicity is given to this type of cyber-crime, but it is happening at all levels of business – from Big Business to SMEs, to the smallest businesses. It is the theft of companies’ intellectual property by their employees, and it causes havoc.”
“In many cases, this company knowledge, which may consist of important customer lists and other information, or complex price work-out templates, has often been created over many years.
“The person will steal this data and then use it to create a competing company, or go and work for the competition. This can be devastating to the original company – the actual owner of the intellectual property. It has destroyed many companies.”
A recent case Computer Forensics dealt with involved an employee who suddenly resigned from his company and set up in direct competition. The company was suspicious so had the data on his old PC examined. Deleted files were recovered, these included confidential marketing data sent as email attachments to a private email account, plus a draft of a business plan for his new competing company.
Surveys back up Eardley-Wilmot’s concerns. According to PricewaterhouseCoopers, cyber-crime continues to grow and has also jumped sharply. PwC’s latest global Economic Crime Survey (2016) identifies cyber-crime as one of the “Big Five Frauds” affecting New Zealand businesses, now accounting for almost a third of such crimes. The report also said 40 per cent of New Zealand organisations had suffered an economic crime over the past two years (up from 33 per cent in 2014).
Knowledge and expertise not theft
Eardley-Wilmot was careful to make a distinction between the knowledge people naturally build up over time in their job (this is not company IP, so the company doesn’t own it) and the deliberate taking of, for example, a detailed customer list.
This type of theft is a major and continuing problem, says Eardley-Wilmot.
“Since we started in business, in 1999, we have handled literally hundreds of computer investigations. Over 90 per cent of them have been to do with the theft of IP.”
Ransomware scams and stories of large organisations having their databases hacked into have been making headlines recently, and rightly so, says Eardley-Wilmot. “But we need to pay more attention to this quiet enemy within who has wreaked havoc in many companies, and continues to do so.”
Press Release: Computer Forensics NZ