What Is An IT Manager To Do When Employees Leave With Code?

by drjim on April 3, 2014

What is the IT manager's responsibility to prevent code theft?

What is the IT manager’s responsibility to prevent code theft?
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The most interesting case is starting to unfold in New York city. The Manhattan District Attorney (their top cop) has filed charges against three IT workers. The crime that they are accused of is leaving the company and taking a copy of the firm’s proprietary high-speed trading code with them. If they did this, then it was wrong. However, does some of the blame have to fall on their IT management?

The Crime

It’s important to keep in mind that at this point-in-time all we are dealing with is some accusations – nothing has been proven yet. Here’s what the Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr. is saying happened. In New York City, there is a company called Flow Traders LLC. This company makes its money by doing what is called high-frequency trading. This type of stock trading consists of rapidly buying and selling stocks all day long in order to make a lot of little profits. In order to determine which stocks to buy or sell, fancy computer algorithms have been developed by the firm.

The District Attorney says that three of Flow Traders’s employees stole valuable source code from the company. What they are accused of is emailing portions of the company’s code to themselves. One of the employees took it one step further. He then took some of the code, placed in his Dropbox file sharing service, and shared it with a friend of his who was still currently in college.

The District Attorney says that the motivation for the theft was for two of the accused to start their own firm. They were going to use the high-speed trading code to create their own high-frequency stock trading company. When investigators searched the computers of one of the accused men, they discovered that the stolen code had been changed which lead them to believe that they had already taken steps towards launching their own business.

The Role Of IT Management

All of this theft of code stuff bring up the very interesting point: where was the IT manager while all of this was going on? Shouldn’t preventing theft be one of our IT manager skills? The Manhattan District Attorney has stated that “Employees who exploit their access to sensitive information should expect to face criminal prosecution in New York State in appropriate cases.” Clearly this is a serious matter and how to deal with should be part of any manager’s IT manager training.

What’s interesting to note is that all three men had already left the firm when they were arrested. What this means is that for whatever reason, they had not been satisfied with their jobs and had left seeing a better position. It would have been the responsibility of their IT manager to create a work environment that would have encouraged them to stay. At the very least, the IT manager should have sat down with them when they announced that they were leaving in order to find out why they had decided to go.

Additionally, since the most valuable thing that Flow Traders LLC owns is their proprietary code, it was the responsibility of the IT manager to make sure that employees who left could not take copies of this code. Securing laptops, locking down sending files via email, restricting the usage of flash drives with laptops, are all good ways to prevent code from slipping out the door. Additionally, telling all employees about the serious consequences of taking code would be a great way for an IT manager to prevent problems from happing in the first place.

What All Of This Means For You

As an IT manager, one of the things that can keep us up at night is the thought that at some point in time someone who worked for us might get arrested for doing something illegal at work. This would reflect badly on the firm and it would not do our career any good. What could we have done to prevent this from happening?

In the case that we talked about, three employees are accused of stealing source code from their employer. Only time will tell if they really did it; however, their IT managers should have been more involved. They should have established processes and procedures that made it difficult to steal code and through IT team building exercises they should have made sure that everyone on their team knew the consequences of leaving with code that didn’t belong to them.

Being an IT manager means that we have to take the time to consider what our team members are capable of. It’s always possible that they may make bad choices and we need to set things up so that it’s hard for them to make the wrong decisions. Take the time to think things through and you’ll be able to ensure that none on your employees become a target of the Manhattan District Attorney.

– Dr. Jim Anderson
Blue Elephant Consulting –
Your Source For Real World IT Management Skills™

Question For You: Do you think that there is any way to prevent a developer from copying source code?

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What We’ll Be Talking About Next Time

IT managers are always searching for the “silver bullet” of IT manager skills that will transform them from average managers into super managers. You know, the ones that their IT team adores and would follow across burning coals if that’s what they asked them to do. It turns out that you already have what it takes in order to make a giant stride closer to being this ideal manager. In fact you have the two things that you need: ears.

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