Offering employees the opportunity to work from home can be mutually beneficial, but can bring challenges. One challenge is handling trade secrets, which are defined as any information that gives some competitive advantage to a company. Trade secrets aren’t generally known. They can’t be obtained legitimately from an independent source.
To keep a trade secret, you must safeguard it from release. Traditionally, corporate jewels were protected by locked doors, file cabinets and security systems. With an employee working from a kitchen table, it’s harder to secure information. Here are a few suggestions for securing sensitive information when employees work at home:
- Secure access: Require remote employees to use virtual private network or other secure access procedures that work smoothly to access your secure server. Reconsider overly cumbersome or dysfunctional access procedures. Those can encourage employees to develop workarounds that defeat the purpose of the secure system. If you have a Bring Your Own Device policy, be sure employees understand that using their own devices doesn’t mean information on them becomes theirs.
- Set permissions: Classify digital data (public, confidential, eyes only) and keep track of employee clearance levels so that you know who can access each type. This will help you narrow the pool of suspects if a theft occurs.
- Utilize software tools: Programs like LOCKlizard or Vitrium allow you to lock document files, stop screenshots, watermark documents, and log document views.
- Employee training: Be clear about your expectations of employees in your employment agreements and written policies. Teach employees to recognize warning signs of information theft and set up a way to report potential problems anonymously.
- Lock and key: Review the environment that the employee is working from. Is the level of physical security in that environment appropriate for the information the employee has access to? Do others in the household have access to devices where work is stored? Is there a security system? Working remotely may not be appropriate for employees that work extensively with sensitive information.
There are penalties, both civil and criminal, for trade secret theft. However, once that valuable information is gone, no law can make it secret again. It’s better to prevent the theft from occurring in the first place.