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Multinationals based in China are increasingly worried about their local workforce stealing valuable intellectual property but many are failing to act in a timely and proactive manner to combat information security threats, according to a panel of security experts.

Speaking at the 13th annual Info-Security Conference in Hong Kong earlier this week, Verizon manager Ian Christofis argued that the risk of IP theft was one of the key concerns for multinationals in the region.

“In my experience, a number of foreign companies - for example US-based or Taiwan-based firms - that are manufacturing in China have particular concerns about loss of IP such as industrial designs from their business units based in China, due to employees leaking information,” he clarified in a follow-up email to The Reg.

“This concern seems well-founded. Some of these companies have good evidence of losses of IP from China.”

For those China-bashers looking to blame the insidious hand of the government once again, however, there’s bad news – Christofis explained that such attacks tend to be financially motivated rather than state sponsored.

Cultural issues could also play a significant part in the level of risk facing these organisations – something that could be pretty hard to insure against.

“The norms we expect in more developed economies, in terms of loyalty to one’s employer and business ethics, seem to be less well-developed or at least significantly different in China,” Christofis told The Reg.

“This may be partly due to low wages and poorer working conditions, although these continue to improve.”

Co-panellists at the conference argued that firms are failing to take a suitably strategic approach to combat such risks.

“Compliance does trigger some proactivity but I agree that it doesn’t really lead to an improvement in the security posture,” said Guido Crucq, general manager of security solutions at services firm Dimension Data.

“They need to take a step back from operations, see where they are and decide on a plan.”

Forrester principal analyst John Kindervag added that user education and awareness training are to a great extent a waste of time, claiming that organisations should design and strictly enforce access controls on a need-to-know basis.

“Even if we do user awareness training the users are going to do what they would anyway,” he argued. “I don’t think asking them to participate in what we do as security professionals is realistic.” ®

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