3 Things You Can Do If You Suspect An Ex-Employee of Stealing Trade Secrets

By: David J. Hargis & Joshua Redelman

One of the most obvious changes caused by COVID-19 is that everyone is now working from home. In addition, now that the floodgates have opened, many U.S. companies expect work-from-home arrangements to expand. In fact, according to the 2020 Remote Work-From-Home Cybersecurity Report, sponsored by Pulse Secure, 84% of U.S. companies surveyed expect broader work-from-home adoption despite the fact that 69% of these organizations are concerned about work-from-home security risks. 

So, this begs the question, what should you do if you suspect an employee or ex-employee of stealing trade secrets?

First, you have to control the damage.
The company should begin by confirming that it has terminated the ex-employee’s access to all company information, both physically and virtually. These steps include revoking all computer and building credentials, reclaiming company computers and smart phones, as well as eliminating virtual private network (VPN) access to the company’s computer system.

Second, you must preserve the evidence. The company should not reissue, update, defragment, or do anything to the computer without first “imaging” the electronic device’s hard drive and information storage system. Otherwise, the company could lose critical evidence necessary to prove the ex-employee’s theft. The ex-employee’s company devices are usually the best evidence of an employee’s mishandling of company trade secrets. This basic forensic examination will usually reveal if the ex-employee is a real threat to the company or not.

Third, you must immediately survey the damage and act quickly. Although lower-level employees, such as entry-level accountants or secretaries, are typically less likely to steal information, companies can never be too careful. Stories abound of how the company secretary stole a client list or confidential pricing information on their way out the door. Regardless, if you discover that an ex-employee has misappropriated company trade secrets and poses a material risk to the company, time is of the essence. The company must act fast and should consider seeking emergency relief in the form of a temporary restraining order.


Given that the number of employees who work remotely is expected to continue to rise, it is essential for businesses to establish robust cybersecurity measures to prevent trade secret theft. Companies must also design and implement plans for responding swiftly to incidents involving stolen proprietary information to minimize potential damage to their businesses.

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