02/10/2013 08:43 BST | Updated 23/01/2014 18:58 GMT

Data Revenge

Companies beware! Losing your information has the potential to harm a business far more than an angry tweet.

Pick up a magazine or newspaper, log on to Twitter or Facebook and you'll find many an example of people whose feelings have been wounded as a result of undeserved treatment. On occasion they choose to vent their frustration in ways that are both malicious and potentially destructive.

We've all heard those painful, not to mention embarrassing, stories about the spurned partner who takes revenge on a former flame by circulating sensitive information about their ex to friends and family members or even disseminating it widely to total strangers. Technology of course has provided many social platforms and other opportunities to use information for revenge. And, thanks to resignation emails going viral and tweets from staff at companies on the brink of collapse lighting up the Twittersphere, the trend for data revenge is gaining momentum in the workplace

A recent Iron Mountain study* demonstrated the potential impact on businesses of emotional fallouts in the office. It appears that a surprising number of employees are motivated to lash out against employers when they've been held responsible for something they believe wasn't their fault (21 per cent) or treated unkindly (19 per cent). A number of job-related set-backs, including dismissal (18 per cent), poor performance reviews (6 per cent) and missing out on promotions or pay rises (8 per cent) can also result in an employee taking revenge.

So, how do people take revenge? Do they send an email to tell their boss how they really feel? Go on strike? Mess up the filing cabinet? According to the Iron Mountain survey, for 22 per cent of aggrieved employees it is enough to vent their feelings across the office, and almost a quarter (24 per cent) would choose to let off steam via email, usually to their friends and family. However, almost 1 in 10 office workers surveyed admitted they would take revenge on their employer by deliberately taking confidential or sensitive information out of the office.

So what do employees take as they walk out the door? Valuable customer databases are the most likely items to be taken (45 per cent) followed by presentations (39 per cent), strategic plans (13 per cent), company proposals (9 per cent) and product/service roadmaps (7 per cent)**.

Taking any business critical information could have a detrimental effect on the company, harming competitive advantage, damaging brand reputation and potentially destroying customer loyalty. In short, data revenge could hit the bottom line hard.

However, whilst harming the business, the vengeful employee is also at risk, as many fail to realise is that that taking information out of the office this way is in fact acting against the Data Protection Act. Employees that do so could face disciplinary action, doing as much harm to themselves as the business. Companies would be wise to think carefully about how they inform employees about what information can and cannot be taken out of the office, putting processes and policies in place for the secure handling of information and communicate these at regular intervals during the employee's time at the company.

Companies beware! Losing your information has the potential to harm a business far more than an angry tweet.

*Research by Opinion Matters for Iron Mountain. The survey was carried out between 15/04/2013 and 01/05/2013. Sample: 1000 employed adults in the UK

**Opinion Matters for Iron Mountain, June 2012