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A new study conducted by Purdue University researchers notes that the global recession is putting vital information, including valuable intellectual property assets, at greater risk than ever before.  The study was commissioned by McAfee and conducted by researchers from Purdue’s Center for Education and Research in Information Assurance and Security (CERIAS).


Of 800 senior IT decision makers surveyed in the U.S., UK, Germany, Japan, China, India, Brazil and the Middle East, it was estimated that a combined $4.6 billion worth of intellectual property was lost in 2008 alone, and approximately $600 million was spent repairing damage from data breaches.  Based on these numbers, McAfee projected that companies worldwide lost more than $1 trillion last year.

“Companies are grossly underestimating the loss, and value, of their intellectual property,” said Eugene Spafford, professor of computer science at Purdue and executive director of CERIAS. “Just like gold, diamonds or crude oil, intellectual property is a form of currency that is traded internationally, and can have serious economic impact if it is stolen.”

McAfee and CERIAS identify three trends that will make critical information more vulnerable:

The first trend is that the insider threat will grow. Business failures, mass layoffs, decimated markets and a poor economic outlook will lead to a vastly increased number of financially desperate current employees and laid-off staff stealing valuable corporate information, both for financial gain and to improve their job opportunities.

Secondly, there will be more sophisticated and targeted attacks from cybercriminals. Attackers will comb blogs, press releases, magazine and newspaper articles, corporate information databases and social networking sites to gather details of executives’ public and private lives in order to gain access to user IDs, passwords, financial and systems account information and other sensitive corporate data. Web 2.0 technologies and cloud computing where people collaborate, share and use existing components to build new applications will create an environment of great innovation but can also create a back door for cybercriminals to steal sensitive data.

The third trend that McAfee observed was geo-information “hot zones.” As China and Russia’s economies soften, there will be even more pressure to “appropriate” intellectual property as a means to continue economic growth. Organized crime and state-sponsored groups in both Russia and China will continuously seek out new and profitable targets. Pakistan looms as potentially the largest threat, with attackers motivated by ideology rather than economic gain.

As information becomes increasingly vulnerable, it’s important to take extra precautions to maintain and enforce your intellectual property rights.  Make sure that your company is protecting it’s valuable IP assets and not letting your investment slip out the back door!