Information is the most important and valuable asset to your business. Without it, you are just a bunch of people who get together to talk (or email or tweet or ____). Once you develop, use and maintain a common set of knowledge, processes and expertise, you create intellectual property that is valuable. Whether that information is the specs on machine tools or the source code for your next software application, if you lost it, you’re business could be in jeopardy.
Information exists in many places. You write it on paper, it’s stored electronically in documents and files, it’s in databases and it’s in people’s heads. Most of it is in electronic documents, since this is how we maintain the collective knowledge of our organizations. We used to be storytellers, but then we started writing things down so we could remember and pass them on. With so much critical information inside businesses, there is too much to remember without writing it down.
The theft of your information can be devastating to your business. It can cause embarrassment, cost millions of dollars in lost business and fines and have legal implications that cause irreparable harm to your brand. The US Justice Department estimates that intellectual property theft costs US businesses billions of dollars a year. It could be as simple as a response to an RFP getting into the hands of your competitor or as big as losing the secret formula to Coca Cola.
Recently I was talking to an executive from a law firm about where she kept the most sensitive information in her business. She said all that information is kept in documents. Some of them are in their case management system, but many are on people’s laptops, desktops, mobile devices and file servers. I asked her what would happen if those documents got out of the company and into the hands of other law firms, the media or other businesses? She said it would be devastating. Letting her client correspondence, legal briefs and strategies out would ruin them. Their clients would lose all trust in them and it would most likely put them out of business.
Every business faces the same issue. How do you protect the information in your documents? Use a persistent security policy that follows the document. It encrypts the document and you control who can access the information inside it. If a law firm only wants certain attorneys to see a legal brief, they can give that group the right to view and edit the documents. If anyone else tries to access them, they can’t read the information inside. The strong encryption makes the data look like random characters. Many law firms believe their documents are protected because they’re in a case management system. That’s true when they are in the system, but not when someone takes them out.
If the law firm needs to share case files with outside counsel, they can give those people access too. If an outside person accidentally emails the files to a third party, the file content is useless to them. The protection goes with the document. That was the fear of the executive. A lot of documents move around on mobile devices and she worried that someone may lose a device. Since anyone accessing the document must be given specific rights to it, someone with a stolen mobile device would have a bunch of useless files.
You could also revoke a document’s rights, if you suspect it got out of your company inadvertently. Think about a contractor or temporary employee who has access to sensitive information. Once they leave your employ, you don’t want them using that information. You can revoke their access, so they can’t view the information inside the documents. Even though they have the document, it’s useless.
Since a lot of information theft comes from inside organizations, it’s critical to protect it. This may have saved the US State Department and military a lot of pain and embarrassment when Private Bradley Manning stole all the classified documents last year. If they had encrypted them with persistent security, they could have revoked rights to them immediately. Wikileaks would then have a bunch of useless files and there would be no story.
Whether you are a small law firm, a large software company or the US government, protecting your intellectual property is critical to maintaining your business. Protect your confidential documents so that your business doesn’t walk out the door and quit on you.
Photo credit Elizabeth/Table4Five