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Almost a third of company directors surveyed have admitted to stealing corporate information, with memory sticks making theft easier than ever.

In a survey of 1,385 business people, 29 per cent of company directors admitting to stealing confidential corporate information when they left a company. The survey, conducted by polling company YouGov on behalf of software firm Hummingbird, found that 24 per cent of the thefts involved using memory sticks or MP3 players to move data and 18 per cent used email.

The information was revealed as part of Hummingbird's Information Management Survey, which assesses the way in which firms are coping with increases in information sources.

"There is an exponential increase in communications technologies in the workplace and it is harder and harder for organisations to control information access and to protect the confidentiality of vital data," said Tony Heywood a senior vice president of Hummingbird.

"Businesses should stop relying on the moral code of the individual employee to ensure information capital is protected and implement the appropriate enabling information management systems to control information flow."

"While the majority of employment contracts have a clause forbidding the unauthorised removal of information, it is incredibly difficult to track and monitor given the explosion in volume of information dealt with on a daily basis," said Heywood.

The most likely material to be stolen is relatively low risk. Employees are most likely to steal training documentation and procedure manuals, but 18 per cent of those who steal will take financial figures and 14 per cent will take client reports. "Organisations have to be aware of their growing vulnerability to corporate espionage and do something about it," said Heywood.

The survey also found that 28 per cent of employees say that they waste 20 per cent of the time they spend on email. Searching through emails, looking for attachments and documents and dealing with email overload eats up one fifth of their email time, the employees told the survey.

"The results call into question the reality of the so-called knowledge economy," said a statement from Hummingbird. "Productivity levels seem to be plummeting due to the sheer amount of information that employees are dealing with."

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