Rooting Out Thieves in the Workplace
It is estimated 30% of employees steal from their employer.
Most of us have dealt with a thief during our lifetime. Devious and sneaky, some thieves behave as if stealing is an art. It is usually a theft exposing them; however, many times, they can strike numerous times before getting caught. When theft happens in the workplace, it can not only be a costly lesson but the cause of a business failing.
An estimated 30% of employees steal from their workplace affecting all types of businesses. For instance, if you are running a restaurant with $1 million sales annually, at only 4% theft within the company, your company would be losing $40,000 a year!
Employee theft costs U.S. businesses over $200 billion in annual losses. Not only are companies trying to prevent the public from stealing items, inventory, assets, and ideas from a business, they must also combat thieves on the inside. Unfortunately, 75% of employee-related crimes go undetected.
Theft can take many forms, such as: stealing money, embezzlement, unauthorized use of business or customer identity, and theft of intellectual property, such as cases of patent or trademark infringement.
Combating Theft is Knowing How Employee Theft Occurs.
Employees who have access to a cash register is the most common way employees steal from companies. If unsecured, petty cash drawers or boxes, can be an easy target for thieves.
In addition, an employee can quote a higher price than the actual price of an item and keep the difference at the point of sale.
If employees have access to credit card information or checks, theft can happen as easily as sticking a few checks inside a folder, costing the owner thousands before it is detected.
Checks and Fraud
Most banks do not verify a signature on a company check making it very easy to sign and cash a check.
Credit card fraud is a number one threat to companies and consumers because most credit card holders admittedly do not check each line item on their credit card statement.
According to the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA), companies with less than 100 employees, lose approximately $155,000 as a result of fraud each year, a much higher rate than large companies.
Employees may often perform actions and falsify records for work they didn’t do, such as requesting reimbursement for travel and other expenses unrelated to work. Employees may also set up fake payroll accounts for workers who have been terminated or retired. Creative thievery abounds.
Time theft or “Buddy Punching” is a very popular way timesheets may easily be falsified. Individuals complete this theft by having one employee punch another employee in or out for the other.
Excessive breaks, malingering, surfing the Internet, chatting with employees or taking personal phone calls are other ways time theft occurs. While some of these things may not at first be thought of as stealing, all these actions, or inactions, can affect the bottom line and be taking advantage of an employer.
Thieving employees will set up fake vendor accounts, submit phony invoices and issue checks for the false vendor. These checks can then be signed over to themselves and deposited. In addition, a variation would be paying a vendor $500 and writing a check to themselves, expensing the entire $500 to the vendor.
Loss of inventory can happen in the merchandise distribution process but can also happen before merchandise is made available to the public. Many times, employees will take items from a warehouse or newly arrived items before they are scanned into inventory software. Employees have even been known to steal entire shipping trucks containing merchandise headed to their employer’s company.
Some employees steal smaller items such as typical office supplies, but furniture and equipment are not off limits for a thief.
Many employees steal information to benefit themselves or a competitor. Types of information include: office memoranda, proprietary products, customer lists and/or other confidential data. Theft can occur by email, printing, or copying information to a flash drive or cell phone, or simply carrying it out in a purse or folder.
Sometimes, theft can be subtler, such as luring customers away, purposefully providing poor service, even spreading rumors to damage a company’s reputation and cause a down-turn in business. All are considered losses.
While there are ways to combat theft within your company, ultimately identifying the thief before they are hired is the most effective way to reduce the occurence of theft.
The SBA recommends: “One of the first steps to preventing fraudulent employee behavior is to make the right hiring decision.”
Background checks are a good practice for any employer, large or small, especially for those employees who will be handling cash, high-value merchandise, or have access to sensitive customer or financial data.
For over twenty-years, Thomas Lauth of Lauth Investigations International has been working nationwide and helping educate employers on methods used to combat theft.
“The first and most effective way to address theft in the workplace, is to conduct an extensive background check,” says Lauth. “A background check can provide insight into an individual’s behavior, character, and integrity.”
Which Types of Background Checks Should You Conduct?
According to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, upwards to 30% of business failures are caused by employee theft. Thus, conducting effective, extensive background checks helps to mitigate your risk of hiring objectionable or even dangerous employees.
Not all background checks are the same. As you build a profile of your future employee, there are several kinds of background checks you should consider. For example, a criminal background check is different than checking on an individual’s credit score or military service, these require consent. A criminal background check does not require consent; however, some states have laws restricting how you use the information collected during a criminal background check.
Private investigation firms like Lauth Investigations offer complete background checks while helping you comply with the law.
Protecting Your Legal Liability with Background Checks
Smaller businesses often forego background checks for two reasons: 1. A false sense of trust and security developed by business owners working too closely with employees. 2. Most businesses do not understand the legal liabilities associated with the failure to conduct employee screening and background checks.
Any business where employees provide a direct service and interact with customers, such as contractors or daycare providers, is liable if an employee does harm to a customer and the employee has a history of wrongdoing.
A company, big and small. may not recover from this kind of lawsuit.
Choosing the Right Company to Conduct Background Checks
Protecting the interests of your workplace and customers while reducing potential liability is of utmost importance; therefore, it is vital to select a company you can trust to conduct the background screening both efficiently and thoroughly.
While employers can do some background checking of their own, working with an experienced and reputable company can ensure the reliability and thoroughness of the background screening.
Purchasing instant public records found online is not appropriate for conducting potential employee background checks. Most certainly if your hiring decision is based on tpublic record data, your company could land in hot water.
Most public databases do not fact check, clean up or refresh their data providing completely different information than received from an investigative firm experienced in conducting professional, legal and full background screening.
Private investigators have access to databases to determine if a potential employee has a criminal background.
A reputable company providing background screening services will ensure the information you receive is current and accurate.
If a hiring decision is made based upon information found in the background check, in most cases, the company must inform the potential employee of the source used to obtain the information for the background checks (which is where using public databases can get your company in legal trouble).
What can you expect from a professional background check? According to Lauth, it’s all in the details and you pay for what you get. If you want detailed, accurate information, you will choose a Private Investigation Background Search.
Unlike a personal background search using public databases, private investigators have access to several databases providing a variety of information.
- Employment history: This search will bring up employment records to include all positions held, making it easier to find discrepancies in a resume. It will also include salaries associated with the positions.
- Academic and professional affiliations: Qualifications to include academic history and certification, even if the person did not complete the program.
- Criminal records: Including a detailed outline of all criminal activity from traffic warnings and tickets to arrests and convictions. Also, these include jail time served and fines paid.
- Financial Standing: Reflects all liens, judgments, bank accounts, current and previous property ownership, repossession of vehicles or other personal property, NSF checks and bankruptcies.
In addition to the typical information received through a personal background check, a private investigator will include:
- Worker compensation claims an individual has filed. This can help determine the character of an individual by looking at the number of claims they have filed which could reveal a person is dishonest and fraudulent.
- Ascertain causes of accidents or any criminal activity. DMV reports will show accident dates and basic information but do not reflect the cause. Private investigators can provide the cause behind the accident and whether criminal activity was involved.
- Information on business and personal partners.
- Analysis of all findings.
Relying on an Internet search is risky. A professional background screening will be more in depth than simply entering a name in a database. When a company’s future is at stake, the only way to go to obtain concise information needed to make informed decisions is a professional, private investigations extensive background check.
By: Kym Pasqualini, Lauth Investigations Feature Crime Writer
You receive a phone call and hear the voice of someone you don’t recognize. They tell you they have your child and will kill them unless you pay a ransom. They direct you not to call police or you will never see your child again.
What would you do?
You tell the person on the other end of the phone not to hang up. You don’t want to disconnect with the one person that can reunite you with your child. You plead for your child’s safe return. “Please don’t hurt her. I will do whatever you want,” you cry.
They demand you go to the bank and wire a ransom of several thousand dollars. Do you call the police? Do you pay the ransom and hope some thug will return your child to you safe?
A child going missing is every parent’s worst nightmare. For those who do have a missing child, living with such ambiguity is said to be the most traumatic of human experiences.
Sounds like a situation that only happens in the movies, right? Or, something only happening to the wealthy.
According to Newsweek, the Seattle Police Department is issuing warnings to parents advising scammers are targeting parents and demanding a ransom in exchange for the safe return of children they kidnapped . . . well, virtually kidnapped. Police throughout the country are following suit.
On March 8, 2017, in Ravensdale, Kings County, approximately 30 miles southeast of Seattle, a mother drops her children off at the school bus. Shortly thereafter, she receives a phone call from a man who threatened to kill her child if she didn’t pay a ransom.
The mother was able to reach out to the school to make sure her children were there. The school confirmed they were safe.
King’s County Sheriff’s Office told ABC News, this was the first reported incident in their jurisdiction.
In another case, a woman called a father “hysterically crying” claiming to be his daughter and stating she had been kidnapped. A man then got on the phone and told the dad if he didn’t pay a ransom, he would hurt his daughter.
Officers in Denver have responded to several reports of kidnappings. In a press release issued by the Denver Police Department, police say the caller demands a monetary payment in exchange for the release of the victim’s child. The caller dials the parents in the afternoon and demands the ransom to be wired to a bank.
After investigating the recent incidents in Denver, they determined the kidnappings were false and all children involved in the incidents were found safe.
Virtually Kidnapped Daughter
On Monday, April 16th, Sean Hollister was at his residence in Longmont, Colorado, about 15 miles northeast of Boulder, and received a frightening call from his 11-year old daughter who he thought was at school.
“My daughter was in tears, sobbing,” Hollister told the Times-Call. “I thought she was in trouble or something. She said, ‘Dad, I’m sorry I let this happen,’ which is exactly what she would say,” Hollister said.
“I said, ‘What’s wrong,’ and I offered up her name, so he knew my kid’s name,” Hollister said a man got on the phone and told him, “I got your daughter in a truck. She is on her way to Mexico.”
When Hollister told the man he was calling the police, the girl came back on the phone screaming. “Daddy, they are cutting me. Don’t call 911.”
Hollister was able to call police on his cell phone. “The caller told Hollister to get his wallet and identification and promptly leave the house.
Victims of “virtual kidnapping” describe the incident as traumatic.
Hollister’s postman was in the yard when he walked outside. “I’m mouthing ‘Help me,’ and he is freaking out,” said Hollister.
Longmont police showed up at his home fast and they took over from there and the caller hung up. Officers quickly determined Hollister’s daughter was safe.
The traumatized father would later find out the callers were trying to pull off a “virtual kidnapping” scam.
“The gap between the cops getting there and finding out my daughter is okay was terrifying,” said Hollister. “Who would think someone would be that cruel?”
Hollister’s caller had a Mexico number, but police say it is possible the caller was local and hijacked the number to appear like the call was made from out of the country.
In yet another case, a woman received a frantic call her brother had been kidnapped, injured and bleeding out, demanding thousands of dollars through a wire to return him safely. She was able to reach her brother on another phone and never paid any money, but a clear sign anyone can be a victim of this type of horrific scam.
According to FBI kidnapping expert, Agent Eric Arbuthnot, several organizations use these scams regularly to make money.
“Thousands of dollars in ransom,” said Arbuthnot. “And you’re talking about a criminal organization that is capable of doing more than one kidnapping at a time.”
According to Arbuthnot many of the cases have been happening on the West coast and along the border involving criminal organizations from Mexico, some claiming to be members of the cartel.
The FBI has seen recent increases in California, Nevada, New York, and Texas.
Monroe Police Department in Connecticut said by using social media, scammers can identify a victim, look up relatives, and reference names of family members and friends to make the call appear legitimate.
FBI Supervisory Agent Christopher Johnson said his office in St. Louis, Missouri deals with these types of crimes. “Scammers will often mention specific facts about the parent or victim, likely from information they were able to obtain online.”
Authorities say about one in five kidnapping cases are successful resulting in the criminal getting their ransom and not getting caught. While extortion has been around for decades, virtual ransom kidnapping calls are increasing around the country.
FBI Special Agent Glenn Milnor warns parents about virtual kidnapping.
With this emerging scam, the FBI has launched a nationwide campaign to warn parents to fight back against “virtual kidnapping.”
If you receive a virtual kidnapping ransom call…
Unlike traditional kidnapping schemes, a “virtual kidnapper” has not actually kidnapped anyone. According to the Federal Bureau of Investigation, if you receive a call from an individual demanding a ransom for the safe return of a kidnap victim, it is suggested you quickly evaluate the following to determine if you are receiving a legitimate ransom call:
- Caller insists you stay on the phone.
- Call does not come from your child’s cell phone.
- Caller tries to stop you from contacting the kidnap victim.
- Call includes demand for ransom to be paid via wire transfer.
- Ransom amounts may decrease quickly.
Knowing what to do
Police say it is best to hang up the phone; however, if you continue the conversation pay attention to the following:
- If you engage the caller, don’t call out your loved one’s name.
- Deliberately try to slow the situation down and ask to speak to your child directly.
- Ask “proof of life” questions like, “How do I know my loved one is okay?”
- To gain confirmation if your child is an actual kidnapping victim, ask questions only your child would know such as the name of a pet.
- Listen very closely to the voice of the person speaking. If possible record the call.
- Have someone else try to call your child’s cell phone, school, text, social media, etc., to confirm their safety.
- To buy time, repeat the caller’s request and tell them you are writing down the demand or tell the caller you need time to make arrangements.
- Don’t agree to pay a ransom: by wire or in person.
- Don’t deliver money in person.
- Immediately call your local FBI office and police.
According to the National Crime Information Center (NCIC), as of March 31, 2017, there were 86,618 active missing person cases in the FBI database, with 8,792 entered as involuntary.
Experts agree an actual kidnapping with a ransom demand is quite rare but all experts urge parents to be vigilant.
To read the FBI warning, please click here.
From Latin, it means “buyer beware.” It’s a phrase that conjures scenes from the famous tale of “Jack and the Beanstalk.” Young Jack’s mother, filled with shame and frustration, regrets sending her son to market after finding out he’d sold their most valuable possession—their cow—for a handful of beans. Jack’s mother feared her son had been a victim of consumer fraud, and unfortunately, it is far from fiction.
In many ways, capitalist America is the perfect hunting ground for the man with the magic beans. America is one of the largest consumer nations on the globe. Securing an excellent deal on goods and services means bragging to your friends about how you got the new lawnmower for a song. The consumer feels intelligent and capable, as if they managed to somehow trick the store or salesperson into giving it to them at an attractive price. American consumers chase this feeling by attending special sales, racking up credit card debt, and turning coupon-clipping into an Olympic sport—all in the interest of outsmarting the man with the magic beans.
Luckily for American consumers, there are institutions that help protect them from consumer fraud, such as the Better Business Bureau, which identifies problematic businesses that might swindle American consumers out of their hard-earned money. There’s the Federal Trade Commission, a government agency policing business practices and policies to protect American consumers and regulate competition within industries to maintain a healthy, well-balanced economy. In the long century since both of these institutions were established, the man with the magic beans has also changed and evolved, just like any predator.
One of the most common types of consumer fraud in America is mortgage fraud. Owning one’s home is still very much a part of the American dream. Americans shop for homes for months, searching for the certainty they will not overpay for their homes. Those who have morbidly derelict credit are afraid to answer the phone, desperate to evade bill collectors, petrified of losing their home. They are perfect targets for criminals running foreclosure-rescue schemes. The Federal Bureau of Investigation defines it as “perpetrators profit by selling the property to an investor or straw borrower, creating equity using a fraudulent appraisal, and stealing the seller proceeds or fees paid by the homeowners.” Perpetrators convince the debtor they can transfer their poor credit into the name of a third-party investor (i.e. the perpetrator), renting their property until such a time their credit is once again in sufficient standing. The perpetrator fails to make the mortgage payments on behalf of the victim and pockets the profit.
As technology advances, there are more convenient ways to pay for goods and services with the rise of electronic pay, using applications and online services to pay bills. It might be the best way to avoid another common type of consumer fraud: debit-card fraud. Many Americans are familiar with credit card fraud but might believe their debit cards are safe. Ken Stalcup, a certified fraud examiner working with Somerset in Indianapolis, identifies these types of fraud for a living, but even he is not immune to consumer fraud. He was just paying the bill at a restaurant. The waitress disappeared out of sight with his debit card to clear his bill, and when she returned, nothing was amiss. However, Stalcup’s bank was alerted when it appeared his debit card was used to purchase computer equipment almost halfway around the world. The waitress had sold his card information, enabling other criminals to steal from him. His advice to other vulnerable consumers is to “avoid letting their debit cards out of sight and check their accounts daily.”
One of the most devious forms of consumer fraud is charity frauds. Fake charities are set up with the intention of exploiting humanity’s capacity for the desire to help those less fortunate than oneself using the same system that real charities use to collect legal donations. According to a 2011 statement by the FTC, they received more than 30,000 reports of people making donations to fraudulent charities. Just as easily as Americans are vulnerable to a good deal, they are also vulnerable to putting their money towards a charitable cause, whether out of actual benevolence or the appearance of such. These predators are especially fond of slithering out of the woodwork in the wake of natural disasters such as hurricanes like Katrina and Maria that devastated both New Orleans and Puerto Rico respectively. These tactics add a brand-new level of sleaze to consumer fraud, taking advantage of the American need to help their fellow man.
In addition to remaining an informed and skeptical consumer, there are other ways you can protect yourself from consumer fraud. Enlisting the help of a private investigator or a similar inquisitive entity can help you protect yourself from scams like those mentioned above and resolving these frauds after they are perpetrated. A private investigator’s job is to serve the specific needs of their client, diligently capturing the entire picture of how severely the consumer might have been affected by a particular fraud. Of course, they can be a perfect tool for exposing the agencies that claim to want your money and knowing exactly where the money is going. Local authorities are often overwhelmed by crime statistics that force them to practice triage when dealing with different types of cases. Private investigators have an invaluable list of tools at their disposal, which they can often use without the restraints legislation places on law enforcement. Whether you’re outsourcing to a third party or taking your personal consumer protection into your own hands, never let your guard down when it comes to the man with the magic beans.
Written By: Kym Pasqualini, Feature Crime Writer for Lauth Investigations
Penetration testing, intrusion testing and red teaming are some of the terms used for ethical hacking.
The word “hacking” almost always has negative connotations. It seems the mention of Chinese hacking, Russian hacking, or DNC hacking receives constant mention in our 24-hour news cycle.
Ethical hacking is also referred to as penetration testing, intrusion testing and red teaming, coined by the government during the 1970’s when they first hired ethical hackers to break into the United States government’s computer systems to test for vulnerabilities.
It is estimated “hackers” cost the United States more than $445 billion annually.
In a Fortune article “Data Breaches Now Cost $4 Million on Average,” according to IBM’s security division, the cost of a breach per incident has risen to $4 million, up 29% since 2013. “We’re now in a mode where these attacks are going to happen even to people that are well prepared,” said Caleb Barlow, a vice president at IBM Security.
Hackers cost the US government and corporations billions annually.
According to Fortune, hackers and cybercriminals cause most breaches, and more than half of data exposures are caused by malicious attacks; the rest are caused by mistakes or glitches.
Ethical hacking is a growing profession utilized by the United States government, technology companies and other institutions.
In the field, experts refer to three major types of hackers:
- White Hats: Security professionals or “ethical hackers” who use their expertise to strengthen a network and secure it from criminals.
- Black Hats: Malicious hackers or “crackers” who use their skills for malevolent purposes. White hats work to protect computer structures from the Black Hats.
- Gray Hats:Iindividuals who become white or black hats depending upon the circumstances and generally proclaim being an ethical hacker.
Many large corporations, such as IBM, employ teams of ethical hackers to keep their IT systems secure.
Why Ethical Hacking is Important
With every breach reported in the media, the need for more effective information security is becoming increasingly evident.
New technologies such as cloud computing, IT outsourcing, and enterprises must adjust their security practices and policies to combat the threat of malicious hacking. To combat threats, ethical hacking is rapidly gaining attention as an essential security practice to be performed on a regular basis.
In a public white paper entitled, “The Importance of Ethical Hacking: Emerging Threats Emphasize the Need for Holistic Treatment,” by Frost & Sullivan, it discusses top technical concerns and the role of ethical hacking in an enterprise architecture.
“The increased sophistication and success rate for recent cyber-attacks is directly related to the shift in the attacker profile, indicating that nation-states and large criminal organizations are funding well organized, highly motivated, and well-trained teams of programmers,” said Chris Rodriguez, Analyst for Frost and Sullivan. “The elevated threat landscape therefor, urgently dictates the need for a comprehensive, real-world assessment of an organization’s security posture,” said Rodriguez.
Ethical hacking provides objective analysis of an organization’s security stance for organizations of any size. Ethical hacking has become a mainstream service, as companies of all sizes pursue expert, objective, third -party analysis.
What is an Ethical Hacker?
Ethical hacking is an ambiguous term used to describe hacking performed by an individual or organization to help penetrate or gain access to identifying potential threats on a computer or a network infrastructure. In short, ethical hackers are simply computer programmers who use their skills in a constructive manner.
Ethical hackers can attempt to bypass security systems to isolate weak points malicious hackers could exploit. In the effort to eliminate or reduce potential criminal hacks, the information gained by the ethical hacker is then used by the company to make improvements to security.
Some may say there is no such thing as an “ethical” hacker. Simply “hacking is hacking” but the most notable hackers are known publicly as cybercriminals or computer criminals because of the damage they inflict on companies and individuals nationwide.
A highly publicized hacking incident where personal information is compromised can damage a company or organization for years.
A cybersecurity professional can have a range of expertise, anywhere from maintenance, administration, architecture, forensic investigation of secure networked systems that are increasingly necessary for the sake of operation of businesses, nonprofits, governments and medical, and educational institutions.
Even training is offered by the International Council for E-Commerce Consultants (EC-Council). The Certified Ethical Hacker (CEH) exam is made up of approximately 125 multiple choice questions and costs about $500 with additional IT certifications available. Training is entirely voluntary.
For hacking to be ethical, a hacker must abide by the following informal rules:
- Permission to access the network to identify potential security threats.
- Respect individual’s right to privacy.
- Treat all data, material, and findings as confidential.
Ethics play a vital role in hacking and differentiating innocent activities from computer crimes. Hacking is ethical if the skills are used to enhance a network system. But the issue of ethics can be very risky when one does not know a person’s motivations. With no formal code of ethics or code of honor, this void creates external forces to determine how to respond when ethical predicaments arise.
An ethical hacker will ensure the client’s IT system is properly evaluated for security issues and vulnerabilities, while protecting sensitive, personal and confidential or proprietary information. While accessing an organization’s system, the respected ethical hacker’s integrity will guide the actions of the ethical hacker.
While ethical hacking presents advantages to increase security to protect IT systems and assets, any organization implementing ethical hacking must consider any negative impacts that may arise from the practice.
An ethical hacker is typically contracted to hack the organization’s system. Hiring outside is usually preferred to start from scratch and simulate potential external hacks.
While there is an advantage of ethical hacking because it supports the organization’s efforts to gain more knowledge about the IT Security by identifying vulnerabilities, the main disadvantage is it presents risks of information disclosure. An outsider could intentionally or unintentionally disclose a company’s proprietary information to outside parties.
A dark side always is present where dishonest people will attempt to exploit others. Some risks of working with ethical hackers include:
- The ethical hacker using their skills to conduct malicious hacking activities.
- Massive security breaches.
- Potential the ethical hacker will place malicious code, malware, viruses or other potentially damaging things on a computer system.
- Allowing company’s financial, banking, or other proprietary information will be accessed.
Working with an Ethical Hacker
The benefits of working with an ethical hacker are obvious; however, many are overlooked, ranging from simply preventing malicious hacking to preventing national security breaches.
Before implementing any ethical hacking, an organization must ensure the ethical hacker understands the nature of the client’s business, computer or network system. This will help guide the ethical hacker in handling any sensitive confidential or proprietary information they may encounter.
The leadership in a company or organization must determine the sensitivity or confidentiality of the information involved. This will help ensure the ethical hacker does not violate laws, rules or regulations in handling sensitive personal, financial or proprietary information.
There are several guidelines to use when working with an ethical hacker:
- An ethical hacker should create a plan including: identifying all networks and components they will test; detail testing intervals; detail testing process.
- Require transparency while working with an ethical hacker, requiring all relevant information be reported while the system or network is being accessed. Transparency ensures the client to make immediate decisions and take necessary actions to maintain the security of the system or network.
- Establish target areas with written work agreements requiring the ethical hacker not to work beyond those parameters to minimize exposure of sensitive information. The ethical hacker should not access other areas on the computer or networks not specified in the agreement.
- Developing a non-disclosure agreement may be in order prior to contracting with an ethical hacker.
There are legal risks to include lawsuits involving disclosure of personal and confidential information possibly leading to a legal battle involving the organization and the hacker if the work is not done properly. Also, if the hacker makes errors compromising the IT network or company security, it is possible to negatively impact the organization’s general operations and profitability.
With cyberspace growing exponentially over the last decade, complex legal issues have led to the birth of a highly specialized branch of law. Cyber Law or Internet Law pertains to Internet and computer technology related offenses, especially copyright infringement and fraud that involve computers, software, hardware, and information systems (IS).
The Information and Technology Act, 2000 (IT Act) covers all types of cyber-crime, including hacking as provided under sections 43 and 66 which covers negligence and computer-related offenses.
Cyber Law prevents or reduces large-scale damage from cybercriminal activities by protecting information access, communications, privacy and intellectual property.
Ethical hacking is rapidly gaining attention as an essential business practice. Regardless of risks, companies large and small benefit from the work of ethical hackers by protecting a company’s most valuable data and protecting their bottom line.
Written By: Kym Pasqualini, Feature Crime Writer for Lauth Investigations
When we think of a spy, given the national news cycle, it may conjure up thoughts of Russians or the Chinese who have been long known for hacking and espionage. However, even more common, but much less talked about, is the business mole, and almost every business in America is susceptible.
Every business sector is vulnerable to Corporate Espionage costing businesses billions of dollars per year.
April 10, 2011, Joseph Muto was hired to work for the top-rated “O’Reilly Factor” but within 3 days, he was discovered by Fox employees to be anonymously writing for Gawker. In the span of 72 hours, Muto wrote a series of articles detailing the internal workings of the network, along with stealing and selling raw video clips. In 2013, he pled guilty to two misdemeanor charges and was dubbed the “Fox Mole.” He was fined $1000 and sentenced to over 200 hours community service. At sentencing, he said he wished he had never betrayed his former employer.
United States industries spend more on research and development of unique products and processes than any other country in the world. The key to success is having an “edge” in the business world. Whether a media company, software developing company or bakery, keeping an edge is key.
When someone steals those “trade secrets”, it is called economic espionage and costs American businesses billions annually. Damages can severely destabilize the victim company to include lost revenue, lost employment, lost investments, interruption in production, damaged reputation, and can even result in a company going out of business.
Corporate espionage conducted by spies or moles believe computers are irrelevant. It is about what data they want, what form they take, and how they can steal it.
The Company Man
The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) states no business, large or small, is immune to the threat of moles and/or spies. Any proprietary process, product, or idea can be a target.
To raise awareness, the FBI in collaboration with the National Counterintelligence and Security Center has launched a nationwide campaign and released a short film called “The Company Man: Protecting America’s Secrets,” based on a true story. Mr. Moore is both unappreciated and unhappy with his career as an engineer at a glass insulation and fire-retardant firm. He is targeted on LinkedIn by a competitor who offers him a position in a rival firm. At first, Moore declines because he signed a non-compete. He is then offered $200,000 to obtain plans for equipment and formula for the glass insulation produced at his firm, RIS.
The FBI states many things drive a person to betray the company where they work.
Moore makes the decision to go to his current boss who then contacts the FBI who initiates a sting. A true story, there was an arrest in the case. However, this may not be the decision every employee would make – which makes every employee a liability in a 400 billion, in the dark. underbelly of America’s global economy.
Spotting Insider Threats
What drives a mole? The FBI states company moles are often “overwhelmed by life-crisis or career disappointment” driving them to leak information.
With email, cell phones, and jump drives, stealing information is far easier than in the past. Greed and financial need, unhappiness at work, the promise of a better job, drug or alcohol abuse, and/or vulnerability to blackmail, can all be contributors, says the FBI.
The FBI says employees who leak trade secrets, such as plans, customer databases, etc. will exhibit behaviors other employees can often identify to help prevent breaches.
Your employees may be the first line of protection when combatting the insider threat.
- Drastic changes in behavior, demeanor, or work habits.
- Unexplained affluence.
- Financial hardship.
- Substance abuse.
- Attempts to circumvent security procedures.
- Long hours at the office without authorization.
- Taking home proprietary information.
- Unnecessarily copying materials.
- Using an unauthorized USB drive.
- Unusual use of cell phone during business hours.
- Asking inappropriate questions.
- Suspicious relationships with competitors.
- Leaving traps to detect searches of their office.
Based on FBI’s studies, additionally, there are more subtle things to look for:
- Someone hired to steal company information will be experienced in the operation of a business and will be able to identify the value of your company’s trade secrets.
- Corporate spies are everyone’s friend. To gain access to a company in order to steal information, a mole will be socially adept with the ability to manipulate people to gain their trust.
- Individuals who are frequently wandering or talking in locations they do not need to be to complete their job. Someone who reflects a pattern will always have a reasonable excuse as to why they are not in the correct area or talking to specific employees.
- Employees who keep trying to re-open decisions already settled and question advisability of decisions.
- They act envious.
Vulnerabilities – Getting Access
Once inside, a mole has a lot of ways to access sensitive information. Spies can even work in pairs, possibly one as a consultant and the other an employee. When you have valuable information, never underestimate the methods others will use to gain access to it.
Spying can be as easy as photocopying papers found on unattended desks or at printers. Walking into an empty meeting room with a laptop and pulling data off the network.
A common ploy is pretending to be an employee. Another ploy often used, posing as IT personnel because it enables the individual to look legitimate while accessing network access points and sitting at someone’s computer. In other cases, spies have posed as cleaning staff, gaining access after-hours.
Criminals capitalize on the common assumption if you are in the building, you must be okay. Investing in your company’s staff to raise awareness is the best investment a company can make.
According to InfoWorld, Peter Wood, Chief of Operations at First Base Technologies, a U.K. based consultant firm performing ethical hacking services, “Spies are interested in anything from financial data to intellectual property and customer data. They might steal information for blackmail purposes, but the most common motive for physical intrusion is industrial espionage.”
Wood says the most common way to intrude upon a company is posing as an employee or a visitor, even creating convincing costumes to pose as a legitimate visitor such as telephone, electrical or maintenance person, a burglar alarm inspector, even someone from the fire department.
Protecting Your Trade Secrets
The FBI lists several ways to protect your workplace from insider threats.
- Recognize the threat.
- Identify and value trade secrets.
- Implement a definable plan for safeguarding trade secrets.
- Secure physical trade secrets and limit access to trade secrets.
- Provide ongoing security training to employees.
- Use protective tools such as screensavers with password controls.
- Classify information and store accordingly.
- Secure the workplace so visitors do not have access without security screening.
- Encrypt data and require strong passwords for employees with liberal access rights.
- Develop an insider threat program.
- Proactively report suspicious incidents to the FBI before your proprietary information is irreversibly compromised.
- Ask the FBI or other security professionals for additional awareness training.
At times, companies are hesitant to report such activity for fear they will risk their trade secrets being disclosed in court or compromised in any way. The FBI will do all it can to minimize business disruption, safeguard data and privacy, and will seek protective orders to preserve business confidentiality and sensitive information. The Department of Justice also has a variety of protections in place to ensure information is protected during a criminal prosecution.