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Trade Secrets and Insider Threats – Levandowski’s Are Everywhere

Data security Insider threat Sensitive Unstructured Data

Insider threat has been an issue for many years, but the consequences of these events have a strong and long term impact on your business.

If competitive advantage isn’t enough reason to protect sensitive data, how about the legal costs?

The risk posed by insiders is again, in the spotlight as Anthony Levandowski, a founding engineer at Google’s autonomous vehicle project, now known as Waymo after it was spun off in 2016, is convicted and sentenced to 18 months in prison. After 3 long years of legal proceedings where Levandowski was charged with stealing trade secrets by downloading 9.7 GB of confidential files, he was sentenced to 18 months in prison and ordered to pay over $178 million in fines to Google.

Justice Served for Trade Secret Laws, But Levandowski’s Actions Have Significant Collateral Damage

Levandowski founded Otto, another autonomous vehicle technology company, after leaving Google, which was acquired shortly thereafter by Uber. A year-long legal battle ensued with Waymo claiming damages of $1.9 billion. A guilty verdict against Uber could have delayed its own self-driving initiatives for years.

Surprisingly, five days into the high-profile trial, the companies settled for relatively small payment by Uber to Google of $245 million. The back story for the small settlement is that Google is an early investor in Uber, both recognized the damage to their brand reputation, and the cost of an extended trial was not appealing.

And It’s Not Over Yet

In an article by TechCrunch the apology by Levandowski is noted, but a lawsuit by Levandowski against Uber for $4 billion to cover his legal fees has now been filed.   Uber allegedly promised indemnity to Mr. Levandowski in anticipation that Google would sue him for entering a relationship with a competitor. The trickle-down effect means potentially more payout and certainly more litigation fees affecting an additional company, Uber.

Insider Threats Come In Many Forms

Insider threats don’t all have the high profile of Levandowski nor the same origins. In his case, it was malicious and seemingly not for any real personal gain. Insider threat often involves documents emailed to private email accounts, using USB and other storage devices and copied onto personal devices.

According to InfoSecurity Magazine, employee errors represent over 60% of the insider incidents, and in today’s climate with remote workforces, innocent errors are more likely to occur.

Most Breaches Involve Documents In The Form of Unstructured Data

The information Levandowski had taken was in unstructured document format; blueprints, design files, and testing documentation. He did not steal information from structured databases where most businesses emphasize security.

Stop Insider Threat with Strong Protection and Behavior Analytics

IP that you just can’t afford to lose needs strong protection. It’s not good enough to simply prevent it from leaking through data loss prevention, because it can still get out. You need granular access control over the files, where they are encrypted and access is controlled. This is best done with enterprise digital rights management tools.

And you will generally want to have behavior monitoring in place as well so that you can identify any anomalies and identify someone who may be attempting to take information for malicious use or as a career move.