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How Digital Forensics Can Help to Investigate Data Theft?

Employee data theft has long been a source of concern for all businesses. As businesses rely more and more on electronically stored information across a range of platforms and services, the risk of data exfiltration, data extrusion, data exporting, or even unauthorised data movement is increasing.

Intellectual property (IP) is thought to account for more than 80% of the value of publicly traded corporations. This knowledge is what keeps the business alive, from trade secrets and secretive corporate strategy to sensitive technical diagrams and customer databases. As a result, the loss or illegal disclosure of intellectual property can have serious consequences for businesses. This vulnerability has prompted increased concern about the trusted personnel who have access to this information, as well as the possibility of insider threats causing harm.

Many firms are vulnerable to insider attacks because 72 per cent of former employees admit to stealing company data. Furthermore, nearly two-thirds of employee intellectual property theft occurs within 90 days of a resignation notice. Employees can then take the information with them to their next job, use it to build their businesses, sell it to competitors, and so on. Traditional data loss prevention techniques have failed, and businesses are understanding that if and when employee data theft occurs, they must be able to investigate and respond appropriately.

Impact of intellectual property theft on businesses

It is impossible to overestimate the value of intellectual property to any organisation. Malicious attackers, even inside personnel, recognise the significance of this information. This makes it a tempting target, with IP theft accounting for around $500 billion of the $1.5 trillion cybercrime ring. IP theft has a variety of negative consequences for firms, including reputational damage, legal ramifications, and financial losses.

Control over who has access to data is lost when IP departs a firm. This implies that your information could fall into the hands of a competitor or someone attempting to destroy your company. This can lead to a slew of negative outcomes. For example, stolen intellectual property can lead to product counterfeiting, service duplication, and other issues. This could result in a drop in sales and less money available to keep your business running or growing. Around 750,000 jobs were lost in the United States as a result of IP theft at one point, showing the huge downstream effects on firms.

Suits and legal ramifications are also a problem. In order to ensure that digital evidence is collected, kept, and presented properly in court, it needs time and advanced expertise. This can be costly for unprepared businesses who haven’t planned.

Common types of intellectual property employees take

When it comes to intellectual property theft, employees have a variety of reasons that can influence what they go after. Theft of a car, for example, is a common example |

  • Employee or customer databases that can be used to poach people in the future
  • Email communications
  • Financial projections and records
  • Marketing and sales information
  • Technology details, diagrams, and engineering schemas
  • Pricing model data
  • Contracts and legal documents

And more!

How do employees steal intellectual property?

As the digital world evolves, you may find it necessary to provide employees access to critical areas of your corporate network or databases. While this is intended to ensure that employees have access to all of the information, they need to perform their job efficiently, hostile insider threats can take advantage of this access. Employees are one source of IP theft or leaking |

  • Using personal smartphones and computers to manage data through bring your device (BYOD) programs
  • Sending business emails to personal accounts
  • Exporting data to USB flash drives and other portable storage devices
  • Taking screenshots of sensitive data employees may not have access to export
  • Sharing data on cloud storage platforms like Dropbox, Google Drive, Github, and more
  • Using personal email accounts to sign up for unsanctioned third-party SaaS tools used to complete work-related tasks

Employee data theft can be discovered via digital forensics.

Insider threats and employee data theft investigations can be complex processes. Companies must guarantee that none of the parties involved takes any steps that limit the amount of evidence that can be found or the evidence’s utility. When it comes to taking legal action and avoiding employee lawsuits, your capacity to handle digital evidence can make the difference between success and failure.

What is digital forensics?

Digital forensics is the practice of organising and carrying out investigations involving digital assets using technology and computer science. Identifying sources or assets that may hold evidence, maintaining the evidence throughout the process, analysing the collected evidence for insights and conclusions, and lastly reporting findings are the four steps of the process.

It is critical to have a knowledgeable specialist on hand to assist with this endeavour. A digital forensics investigator should be able to assist you in determining what systems and data the employee accessed and used. Insider threats are also notorious for attempting to hide their traces, and a smart investigator knows how to track down information that has been erased or hidden by the employee.

A typical digital forensics investigation can entail forensic imaging of your devices and servers, isolating emails sent to private addresses such as Gmail, and tracking down files that have been read, changed, or exported recently. Identifying any newly attached storage devices, verifying whether data was copied from cloud storage platforms, determining when remote connections were created, and examining pertinent data points are examples of additional activities. Reporting extensive information and findings, including workflows that can be used in court, could be one of the final duties.

Important considerations when conducting digital forensics investigations

Investigating these dangers, whether it’s a current or past associate, can be difficult. Businesses should take measures while conducting investigations, from addressing privacy regulations to ensuring that the evidence can be relied upon if the employee IP theft case goes to court. Consider the following suggestions as a starting point |

Formal permission

The company, as well as any digital forensics investigators hired, should make sure that the investigation has written approval and that the scope has been determined. Ensure that the HR and legal departments are involved in the process.

Internal policies

Businesses should have clear business policies that allow a digital forensics investigator to determine what an employee is authorised to do and what they are not allowed to do, as well as whether any relevant clauses support the inquiry.


Businesses should stay knowledgeable about all of the employer regulations and compliance guidelines they must follow in order to detect investigation restrictions and specific requirements. This ensures that the investigation will not jeopardise the organization’s compliance position.


Entities should evaluate all relevant local, national, and international privacy laws before investigating any insider threat or employee fraud. Some data protection laws, for example, impose tight limitations on what can be done with an employee’s data or the systems with which they worked. This is especially useful in firms that have BYOD programmes and want to look into employee personal assets.


The procedure of digital forensics is quite delicate. One blunder can obliterate evidence or render it inadmissible in court forever. To conduct investigations, rely on professionals that are both experienced and highly skilled. Also, think about what kinds of technologies you’ll need to support employee investigations, including logging and monitoring software, insider threat detection software, and so on.


IP theft is frequently caused by insider threats. Whether it’s a disgruntled employee who believes they are entitled to own the data they created at work or an opportunistic departing employee who wants to take your IP with them to their next job, businesses must do more to limit this risk. When employee data theft occurs, a company must act swiftly to protect its interests. They must first hire a digital forensics specialist who is not affiliated with the company. This is so that the data from the devices that are most easily available and frequently accessed by the user can be used and relied upon in a court of law if the matter progresses that far. The data must next be interrogated and analysed to determine the events that led to the data exfiltration and what was contained in it.

Using an in-house IT department is not a viable choice because they lack the requisite equipment, skills, and ability to collect data forensically or undertake a computer forensic analysis. Any of their preservation efforts could inadvertently damage the data’s integrity, exposing them to a legal challenge. Shergroup has not only the technological capabilities but also a wealth of expertise in successfully examining situations of this sort, as well as an awareness of prevalent patterns of behaviour and actions used to avoid discovery in such scenarios. During a Shergroup Forensic Investigation, every information acquired is documented in a forensic report that can be used in court.

So, use our digital forensic solution to uncover and understand potential theft to help your company respond quickly and efficiently. Call our business solutions advisors today to get moving.

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Last updated | 19 July 2023

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