Tuesday, February 17, 2009, 2/17/2009 02:26:00 PM

McAfee Estimates $1 Trillion in Trade Secret Thefts in 2008

By Todd

The theft of trade secrets cost businesses about $1 trillion last year, with employees committing many of the offenses, according to research commissioned by McAfee Inc.

In a survey of information-technology executives, 42 percent of respondents said laid-off workers were the biggest threat caused by the economic slump. Businesses reported losing $4.6 million on average last year as employees and outsiders took company information.

The skidding economy, along with the spread of corporate data to overseas factories and call centers, is making company secrets more vulnerable, McAfee said. The information has become a form of currency, used by workers to make themselves more valuable when applying for a job, the study found.

“A lot of the anecdotal evidence shows that many of the thefts were internal,” Gerhard Watzinger, executive vice president of Santa Clara, California-based McAfee, said in an interview. “The information can be anything. We have one case of an oil company with complicated logistics procedures, which an employee took to a competitor.”

The study, conducted by Purdue University’s Center for Education and Research in Information Assurance and Security, polled 800 information chiefs at businesses with more than $250 million in annual sales. Researchers extrapolated the $1 trillion figure, which includes the value of stolen data and the cost of repairing breaches, from its survey sample.

“In the past you heard about credit-card information being stolen,” Watzinger said. “Now it’s more about intellectual property. We saw a spike in the second half of the year.”

U.S. companies have eliminated more than 150,000 workers this month, according to Chicago-based executive-search firm Challenger Gray & Christmas. That follows the loss of 2.6 million jobs last year.

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