Manufacturing firms open to data theft

Manufacturing firms open to data theft

High reliance placed on IM, web email and other insecure methods of communication

High-tech manufacturing firms are facing "serious concerns" over loss of potentially valuable intellectual property due to a widespread reliance on web email and other insecure forms of communication, research warns today.

Many manufacturing firms routinely collaborate with partners through insecure communications tools, such as web email and personal instant messaging, according to the Microsoft Collaboration in High-Tech Manufacturing Survey 2007.

The research, conducted by Washington-based KRC Research, found that 78 per cent of business decision-makers (BDMs, such as directors of supply chain) and 85 per cent of technology decision-makers (TDMs, such as chief intelligence officers and IT managers) at high-tech firms use at least one of a number of nonsecure public communications tools to collaborate with partners. More importantly, the survey found that product plans, technical data and other proprietary information were often sent using such insecure tools.

"Our hope is that this survey shines a light on a problem that has been plaguing the industry for years," said Tyler Bryson, general manager of the US Manufacturing Industry Group at Microsoft.

"The use of nonsecure communications tools is staggering, and high-tech firms are struggling to find ways to communicate with value chain partners more quickly and effectively, without compromising valuable intellectual property and other sensitive data."

Despite the wide use of public communications tools, representatives at very few high-tech manufacturing firms surveyed believe that they are safe for transferring proprietary data. In fact, only 27 per cent of BDMs and 37 per cent of TDMs surveyed who used those tools considered them to be "definitely" secure.

Similarly, the majority of users reported that they are concerned about their staff using these tools to communicate confidential or sensitive information outside the company (58 per cent and 72 per cent of BDMs and TDMs, respectively).

In effort to tackle the problem, 88 per cent of BDMs and 92 per cent of TDMs reported that the ability to manage users' access rights to sensitive documents such as product plans and contract details would be or currently is valuable to their companies. In addition, the ability to encrypt email and/or IM between their company and suppliers was also reported to be valuable to 68 per cent of BDMs and 74 per cent of TDMs in the survey.