Data theft (2)

Trying to close the stable door after the horse has bolted

The problem

Mr. Z's beauty therapy business had been running nicely. He'd employed a competent and, he thought, responsible manager (X) to run it for him so he didn't need to be there. After a year, X resigned and Z's business collapsed almost overnight. All his old customers disappeared and he suspected that X was poaching them with the help of a copy of Z's customer database. Z took X to court and got the judge to issue a court order to have the copy of the database that was on X's laptop destroyed so it couldn't be recovered.

Our involvement.

Z's solicitor contacted us and asked if we could destroy the database so that it couldn't be recovered. This is something we can do and, in fact, sometimes have to do in order to sanitise devices and destroy illegal material. In this case, however, we advised that although we could do it, it would probably be a waste of time.

Our opinion

The court order was too specific in its instructions. It identified a single copy of the database on a particular machine. Since several months had elapsed between X's change of job and the court case, we advised that it was likely that there would be more than one copy of the database in existence. Even if we wiped the copy on X's laptop, one of the other copies could be used at any time so it would most likely be a waste of time and money on Z's part to have it done. We advised against spending any more money on the data wiping even though we could have done it (and would have if Z had insisted).

Lesson to learn

In cases like this, time is of the essence. If Z had acted quickly he might have been able to prevent X exploiting the database and kept his business afloat. Ideally, Z's systems should have been designed to prevent, or at least detect, X's attempts to copy the database in order to protect such a valuable resource.

Cost to the client ?

Free. We don't charge for advice. Unfortunately, the client's delay in taking action was far more costly.

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