With great power comes great responsibility, as the saying goes. Both managers and less senior staff can be privy to a wealth of confidential company information, often relying on it to perform their roles. But these positions of trust naturally create serious financial, reputational, and legal risks to companies.
Unfortunately, information leaks aren’t uncommon. A prominent example is the uncovering of the Cambridge Analytica data scandal by a whistle-blower, leading to serious repercussions for the firm and the social media giant Facebook. But less high-profile cases occur more frequently.
Such events can be difficult to recover from, making expert legal advice and protection of paramount importance. Below, learn why such events occur and why and how companies should protect themselves in the modern age.
What is classed as leakage of confidential information?
Simply put, an information leak occurs when confidential information is revealed to unauthorised people or parties. It could be information specific to a company or its customers or partners. This kind of event typically gives power to one party or group of parties at the expense of another.
Information leaks can occur in several ways and for many reasons, but common triggers include:
- Using non-secure tools
- Employee theft
- Employee mistakes – such as sharing the wrong information with the wrong recipients
- Security attacks or scams
What kind of risk does leaked information pose?
Every data leak is different, and the Information Commissioner’s Office provides clear guidelines for understanding the risk. But the consequences of information leaks can be serious for all involved.
Assessing this risk involves identifying what information is leaked, who is involved, who might be affected, and how seriously. Leaked commercial or intellectual information can lead to lost revenue, for example. Personal data breaches meanwhile create a threat of identity fraud as well as harming personal safety and wellbeing.
How to mitigate the risks of employees leaking information
Focusing on employees, there are several steps companies can take to mitigate information leaks. We’ve summarised some of the most important below:
- Personal data storage: There are different ways to restrict and store personal data securely, such as using strong passwords and locking cabinets.
- Clear desk policy: Staff should avoid storing paperwork in their work area to reduce the risk of leaving sensitive information unattended.
- Remote working: Remote staff should understand how to keep data and devices safe off-site, for example by using two-factor authentication.
- Document naming: Naming documents clearly and consistently reduces the risk of sharing sensitive files accidentally.
- Access controls: It’s logical to extend access to tools and files only to staff who need them to perform their roles.
- Staff training: Crucially, companies must train their staff on the points above and more to establish widespread understanding and responsibility.
Information leaks are a major threat for almost all companies in modern times. But following principles such as those outlined above can eliminate or mitigate the risks.