Nearly half of American workers would have no problem stealing corporate data including customer lists, product plans and other key intellectual property if they were leaving their current position for a new job.

That's according to a new study conducted by Harris Interactive on behalf of security software vendor SailPoint. According to the survey of almost 1,600 American and British workers, 49 percent and 52 percent, respectively would nab corporate data on their way out. In particular, 29 percent of U.S. respondents and 23 percent of UK workers said they would take customer data and contact information. On the other hand, only 13 percent and 22 percent, respectively, would swipe small office supplies like pens, folders and staplers.

"Companies should be gravely concerned with these survey responses," Jackie Gilbert, SailPoint's vice president of marketing and co-founder, said in the report. "I believe the survey illustrates that many employees may not believe that taking company data is equivalent to stealing. It highlights what I call a 'moral grey area' around ownership of electronic data."


Facing increased scrutiny and oversight from both customers and regulators, companies of all sizes are looking for security applications and procedures -- be it file-monitoring tools or mandatory security training sessions -- to keep their employees in line.

Earlier this month, network and file transfer monitoring software vendor Ipswitch issued a report that found that 40 percent of attendees at this year's InfoSecurity Europe conference routinely violated their companies' security and compliance rules by sending confidential information through their personal email accounts.

SailPoint's 2010 Market Pulse survey seems to confirm the fact that workers in today's competitive job market are more at ease stealing customer files or coworkers' salary schedules than grabbing a box of Post-It Notes on the way out the door.

Highest-paid employees most likely to steal company data

In fact, the survey found that those workers making more than $75,000 were generally more likely to steal enterprise IP than those making less, an indication that commissioned salespeople and executives better understand and have the most use for the kind of data that often flows freely through enterprise data networks.

Additionally, the survey suggested that economic hardship isn't necessarily to blame for its findings. Forty-five percent of U.S. employees and 48 percent of British employees surveyed said they didn't think the recession had any influence whatsoever on whether or not they or a coworker would steal data from their employer.

"As frequently as employees move to competitive companies, these attitudes are major red flags for employers," Gilbert added.

Larry Barrett is a senior editor at InternetNews.com, the news service of Internet.com, the network for technology professionals.

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