Trade secret theft of intellectual property, data misappropriation or corporate espionage is a growing trend. All are considered criminal acts that cost employers and employees millions of dollars and future income. This growing trend has attorney’s teaming up with data and computer forensic experts to find the smoking gun and save their clients a great deal of money. Ultimately saving companies or businesses that may be at risk of closing!
How to Avoid Trade Secret Theft of Intellectual Property and Data Misappropriation?
Corporate trade secret theft of intellectual property and data misappropriation with a competitive international company. All sounds right out of a James Bond movie!
Employee Resigns but Doesn’t Tell He Will Be Working for the Competitor
In September of 2015, an employee of a metal company was caught red-handed at O’Hare International airport with his luggage filled with company documents. That employee was Robert O’Rourke. O’Rourke was unhappy working for Dura-Bar, a McHenry County metal manufacturing firm he started working for in 1984 as a metallurgical engineer and eventually became a salesperson. He accepted a new position for a Chinese competitor named Hualong as Vice President of research and development. When he resigned he didn’t tell Dura-Bar management he was going to work for Hualong company. A company that manufactures cast-iron products and is in direct competition with Dura-Bar. On his last day of work, O’Rourke goes out for drinks with some of his colleagues. He slips up and tells them he is going to work for Hualong.
Departing Employee Downloads Electronic Data and Documents Belonging to the Company.
According to evidence at trial, in late 2013, O’Rourke began several months of negotiations to take a similar job with a rival firm in Jiangsu, China. While still employed at Dura-Bar, he then downloaded electronic data and documents belonging to Dura-Bar without authorization two days before officially leaving the company. The following week, he packed up the proprietary information and went to O’Hare International Airport in Chicago to board a flight to China. Federal authorities intervened at the airport and seized the stolen trade secrets from O’Rourke before he could travel to China. Gotcha!
Employee Charged and Convicted
About four years later, in October 2019, a federal judge sentenced a 30-year employee of a McHenry County manufacturing firm to a year and a day in federal prison for stealing trade secret information while planning to work for a rival company in China.
Hire an Expert (HAE)!
Enigma Forensics has over 20 years of experience. We work with attorneys on recovering and proving trade secret theft of intellectual property and data misappropriation for their clients. Criminal acts such as these can cost companies millions of dollars to defend and recover damages. Companies need to protect themselves by setting up protocols to alert when large quantities of data are being downloaded. To further protect themselves, employers must use non-compete agreements when hiring employees that work with proprietary company information.
Rarely do we hear about trade secret theft and misappropriation in the food industry. It happens! Read about this high profile case involving a famous food celebrity chef!
America’s Test Kitchen (ATK) sues Christopher Kimball for Misappropriation of Trade Secrets
Here is another example of trade secret theft. Check out this blog to see how business and personal emails played a role in the misappropriation of trade secrets. Yes, there is trade secret theft in the food industry!
Who isn’t a fan of cooking shows?
Have you ever watched American’s Test Kitchen (ATK) on public television? In addition to the show, ATK is a multimedia company that has holdings in public television programs such as America’s Test Kitchen, Cook’s Country, cooking magazines and books, and several websites? Who knew? We love watching celebrity chefs like Christopher Kimball and other specialized professionals test the great American recipes like meatloaf, roast chicken, and apple pie!
Trade Secret Missappropriation Lawsuit or Foodie Divorce?
Christopher Kimball was the face and personality behind America’s Test Kitchen and Cook’s Country. In November 2015, Kimball left ATK’s program and started his own program called Christopher Kimball’s Milk Street. When two parties split it’s called a divorce, well, you guessed it, ATK sued Christopher Kimball, the co-founder, part owner, celebrity chef, and the former host of its TV shows. Almost a year later, America’s Test Kitchen Inc. filed a lawsuit on October 31, 2016, as the Plaintiff. They wanted Kimball to change his business model. We call this a foodie divorce.
ATK said Kimball duplicated what he did on the show on Milk Street and that he misappropriated its trade secrets and breached his fiduciary duty to the company. In addition, they claimed that while Kimball was working at ATK as he actively created his new company Milk Street. According to ATK, Kimball stole its collection of recipes, TV show ideas, media contacts, and subscriber information. As a result, ATK sought damages against Kimball and wanted a large sum of all profits that he has derived through the use of the trade secrets he allegedly misappropriated from America’s Test Kitchen. Other defendants named were Melissa Baldino, Kimball’s wife and a former executive director of ATK, Christine Gordon, and Deborah Broide. ATK claimed they aided and abetted Kimball’s breach of his fiduciary duties.
Non-Compete Agreement between ATK and Kimball
It seems that ATK and Kimball did not have a formal non-compete agreement in place. To protect intellectual property, corporations use a non-compete agreement where the employee agrees not to enter into competition with the employer during or after employment. If an employee departs and takes intellectual property without permission that’s considered trade secret theft and misappropriation.
It’s all in the Email!
This case is an example of where most evidence of trade secret misappropriation can be found. It’s all in the email! A variety of emails were attached to the complaint that included notes between Gordon and real estate brokers, between Kimball and an IT consultant covering such issues as how to copy and store tons of recipes. There were emails discovered between Broide and Kimball regarding the media lists; between Gordon and the ATK help desk about whether company scanners would keep copies of documents she scanned.
The Foodie Divorce finally settled!
To all our fellow foodies the good news is that both parties settled. Kimball agreed to return his ATK shares to the company for an undisclosed price. In the end, they agreed to business terms that will allow America’s Test Kitchen and Kimball’s company, Milk Street to co-exist. Giving us foodies the benefit of watching both shows!
Enigma Forensics is a computer forensic company with litigation experts that partner with attorneys to represent plaintiffs and defendants to help prove their case. We dig for evidence of trade secret theft or misappropriation of intellectual property. Most of all we are foodies! We found this story about trade secret theft and misappropriation in the food industry fascinating and wanted to share.
Trade Secret theft = loss in revenue. Use your spider sense when someone from your team departs the company. They can unsuspectedly upload electronic data to the Cloud for later use that will drain your company of future revenue and present an immediate loss! Be aware-hire an expert to forensically image the departed employees hard drive. It will save you money and headaches!
Every company will have an employee leave but how do you protect the company’s trade secrets from leaving with them?
It is more common that you know for employees to leave for a competitor. On their way out the door, they will take with them proprietary data that can result in great harm to an organization including; loss of employees, customers, and important revenue streams. If someone on your team recently left your company and is suspected of having joined a competitor, it is vitally important to take immediate steps to protect your organization’s electronic assets.
What types of data do departed employees take?
Enigma Forensics has seen it all! 1. Client Lists 2. Blueprints 3. Historical quotations 4. Programming files 5. Source Code 6. Rebate levels offered from various vendors 7. Supply Chain information 8. Business protocols that competition can replicate
Hire an Expert!
When investigating departed employees the first step is to create a forensic image of the past employee’s hard drive. We recommend NOT to ask an internal employee to perform this task but most importantly hire a qualified computer expert from outside your company. This avoids any underlying loyalty current employees may have for the departed team member. An expert is trained to ensure the chain of custody is preserved so that it can be presented during a trial. Many have learned that hiring an expert is worth every dime!
What are the benefits?
Enigma Forensics computer experts will look for all types of activity that took place, including websites visited, files accessed, files transferred to external media, files uploaded to DropBox or other cloud accounts, concealment activities; encryption, and deletion of electronic evidence.
If your company is on the other side of a trade secret misappropriation litigation, we encourage you to hire an expert that will perform an initial assessment of the new employee’s activities. This will provide you with the benefit of knowing if the employee did something that could prove harmful to your company. It’s not uncommon that misappropriated trade secrets are done without the new employer’s knowledge. Yet, the new employer can be named in litigation as a co-defendant! Ouch!
Enigma Forensics has worked for both the plaintiff and defendant in trade secret litigation. Our experts are CISSP certified, what is CISSP? Certified Information Systems Security Professional. This advanced level of certification is considered the gold standard in the field of information security. It is a globally recognized certification offered by (ISC)2. (ISC)2 is known to be the world’s leading organization specializing in certifications and training for professionals in the cybersecurity domain. Click here to learn more about ICS2. https://www.isc2.org/
Call Enigma Forensics at 312-668-0333 for a complimentary consultation.
Working from home? Have you been transferring files between work and personal computers? Be aware of the security risks that are out there. Experts talk about how to protect your company’s private data. Where should you start to make sure your remote workforce is secure? Listen to these experts!
Using Your Personal Computer to Work From Home
Let’s face it, these are weird times! Never before have we had the bulk of the country’s work force sheltering-in-place and working from home. We’re going on four months battling the spread of COVID-19. Workers have resigned, been terminated and furloughed and many have sensitive trade secrets loaded on their personal computers. Experts Lee Neubecker and the Data Dive Debbie Reynolds discuss currents situations and different audits they have performed for companies to retrieve intellectual property and company data. Check out this blog with transcripts.
Video Transcripts Follows
Lee Neubecker(LN): Hi, this is Lee Neubecker from Enigma Forensics. And I have Debbie Reynolds, the data diva back on the show from Reynolds consulting. Thanks for being on. Thank you so much for having me Lee. So what are your thoughts about the shift and changes that have happened over the last couple of months with everyone being stuck at home with their computers?
Debbie Reynolds(DR): I think it’s a interesting issue now, because as you know, even before the pandemic, there were people working at home. But now since there’s so many more people at home, it’s bringing up other security risks, especially with devices. And I’m sure you know, you probably explain more of your experience about working especially a forensic with people who are remote. And some of the challenges with those machines, especially, you know, the same people. They’re either working from home, people are getting furloughed or people are losing jobs where they’re, they’re not in the office. But they still have equipment. So I’m curious to see what you think about all that in terms of the device, the equipment, and some of the risks that come with that.
(LN) We’ve had a number of projects happen during this period where workers either have resigned, they’ve been terminated, or they’ve been furloughed, and there’s a need to get the company data back. And sometimes that data is on their personal computers. Other times the data is on a company issued laptop, but there are companies are just starting to get back to work. And there’s a whole host of issues. If you have sensitive trade secrets, and confidential electronic data on an employee’s personal or work computer, and you don’t have physical custody of that, there’s a real risk of that data getting disseminated to a new employer, maybe leaked online to the web, or maybe even you know, someone’s kid at home installs a game that opens up malware that puts those trade secrets at risk.
(DR) You know, we know a lot of people working from home, and a lot of people are using, I think the statistics said, the majority of people, maybe a slight majority, are using their own computers to, you know, tunnel in via VPN or whatever. But we all know that people still, under a lot of circumstances, let’s say they’re printing, or they have a file they want to, you know, leave locally or something. What is your advice from a forensic perspective? ‘Cause we can, we always see a lot of data co mingle together, unfortunately, where the personal and people’s business stuff maybe, you know, together in some way, so what is kind of your advice for people working at home for stuff like that?
(LN) If an employee’s is being asked to work from home, they should ask for a work issued computer.
(LN) Also you should be using a virtual desktop of sorts.
(DR) Right. Yeah, exactly. But you’ve seen I’m sure you’ve seen a lot of situations where you’re asked to do forensic work. And there is a lot of personal stuff, even on a company.
(LN) Yeah, we’ve had situations where people have, despite having work issued computers, they’ve still connected their personal computer up to corporate resources, office 365. I’ve seen situations where there’s drives that are syncing to personal, former employees, personal computers, and even though the accounts are severed, so it can’t continue to sync, then all that data might still reside. So we’re doing audits right now for clients to look for, you know, what devices are synchronizing with corporate data stores, and some of those devices. You know, there really needs to be accounting and audit to match up those devices to ensure that only accounts of active employees are syncing and that those devices are company issued devices, not personal devices because it poses a real risk. It’s a problem that could be preempted by issuing, you know, work equipment, not co mingling work and home stuff.
(DR) Are you seeing problems where people are, let’s say they have a phone. And they have like, for example, let’s say they have an Apple phone and they have a iCloud account. And the phone belongs to the company, but their iCloud account is their own personal account where you have problems getting those passwords.
(LN) Yeah, for the most part, we’ve had compliance and I’ve worked to try to help solve the problem, you know, the employee might have stuff they need. And usually what we’re doing in most cases where we have co mingle data, where we’re giving the employee or former employee the opportunity to put all their personal stuff onto a drive that will then do a search against and then we’ll wipe, wipe, completely wipe, the original device. They’ll sign a certification of sorts, and then they’ll only copy the stuff that they, that they copied off that we verified, didn’t contain trade secrets, and they’ll pull that back down to the computer. But that relies on some level of trust that if the employee or former employee signs, a declaration or affidavit saying that they returned everything that they’re being honest.
(DR) Do you have people that are concerned, especially in the legal field about people doing remote document review, and having sensitive documents viewed on their computers at home?
(LN) Well, I think that’s a legitimate question. And you know, if, if companies are outsourcing document review, they should be asking the provider, provider questions about, you know, how, what steps are you taking to make sure that those endpoint reviewers aren’t using computers that are compromised? In many cases, companies are using independent contractors as their reviewers and they’re not issuing corporate equipment. So that that’s a real risk that the whole ediscovery industry really needs to grapple with, because someone’s going to get burned at some point in time, especially during this, this pandemic with, you know, resources taxed and people working from home.
(DR) I have one more burning question for you, actually. And this is about BYOD. What do you think? Because the pandemic, do you think more companies will start to do more or less, bring your own device things as a result? I think we’re going to see a lot of problems come out of BYOD devices where companies see the problem of losing control of their data. And, at least with the larger companies, I think you’re going to see probably more strict, more strict enforcement of using corporate resources. I mean, there were many companies right before Illinois shut down went into effect they were ordering laptops going running out to, you know, retail stores to quickly grab whatever they could, so they can issue laptops to their employees. And, and so I think you’re going to see, I think you’re going to see a movement away from BYOD in the future.
(LN) I agree with that. I think it’s been a long time coming. I don’t know if you remember when they were first doing this, you know, at first companies were giving people devices, then they decided well we’ll save money will be out BYOD Now it seems like a pain in the neck to deal with it. And it’s all these risk issues. So I really feel that they’re going to start to go back the other way.
(DR) Now, well there’s a cost associated with BYOD. And now people are furloughed and all your sensitive data is on former employees, personal computers. So then you’ve got to hire a forensic expert like me to try to work through to get the data back and to solve that problem, which, you know, it might have been much easier to issue a 500 dollar laptop to employee, then to have them synchronize that ’cause they’re going to pay more than $500 dollars to try to solve the problem of getting their data back. So after we get through this next bump in the business cycle where companies are paying out to have to retrieve their data, I think you’ll see that most CFOs will see it’s smart sense to issue corporate laptops and to block access to BYOD devices. But thanks for the question. It was a good one.
(LN) Thank you. Fascinating. Thank you for sharing.
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Forensic Imaging Tools Used By Computer Forensic Experts
Leading computer cyber forensics Expert Lee Neubeckers discusses FTK Imager (forensics imaging tool) and Write Block Technology with Alex Gessen renowned forensics expert.
The transcript of the video follows
Lee Neubecker: So, I hear you recently uncovered a problem with forensic write block technology can you tell me about that?
Alex Gessen: Oh, yes. Not only with write block technology, but even more importantly with… Forensic imaging tool, which is used by basically everybody in the industry, called FTK Imager. And what I discovered, I also used that tool for years, and didn’t realize the fault, but what I discovered. Basically, two weeks ago, and I did some tests and analysis and I asked Kevin to help me, that FTK Imager produces a wrong serial number when USB storage devices are imaged and that serial number basically is useless for the purpose of verification if specific device was plugged into a specific computer, which, with USB devices, is almost always. When you analyze these devices, 90% of times, it’s of critical importance, and–
Lee Neubecker: So, how is that information used when you are doing a trade secret misappropriation investigation to assist you?
Alex Gessen: I… Quite often, I have to image a computer. Usually work computer, where the person works, or worked, and then, first of all, I find out, analyzing the computer, that certain devices were plugged in, in this specific instance. There are other ways to steal intellectual property or trade secrets. You can upload them to the Cloud, you can email important attachments to yourself. But, quite often, because it’s the most time effective, is to copy data to external devices. So, first, you find out which devices were plugged into the computer, and then you have to get these devices and analyze them. And when you have these devices, you have to be sure that this is device which was plugged into the computer in question and for that you need serial number, and FTK Imager didn’t provide serial number. And people, whole industry, was using that for years and years.