Software // Information Management
03:12 PM

Massive Insider Breach At DuPont

A research chemist who worked for DuPont for 10 years before accepting a job with a competitor downloaded 22,000 sensitive documents and viewed 16,706 more in the company's electronic library.

The Delaware U.S. attorney on Thursday revealed a massive insider data breach at chemicals company DuPont where a former scientist late last year pleaded guilty to trying to steal $400 million worth of company trade secrets. He now faces up to a decade in prison, a fine of $250,000, and restitution when sentenced in March.

Gary Min worked as a research chemist for DuPont for 10 years before accepting a job with DuPont competitor Victrex in Asia in October 2005. Between August and December of that year, Min downloaded 22,000 sensitive documents and viewed 16,706 more in DuPont's electronic library, making him the most active user of that database in the company, according to prosecutors.

It's unclear whether Min's frequent access to that database tipped off an automatic alert to DuPont officials or whether his behavior was discovered by studying database access logs. Regardless, Min left DuPont in December 2005, and after starting work for Victrex in February 2006, transferred 180 DuPont documents to a Victrex-owned laptop computer.

After DuPont discovered that Min had helped himself to a large volume of confidential and proprietary DuPont technical information, it notified the FBI and the Commerce Department. Min's Victrex computer was seized on Feb. 8, 2006, while he was at a meeting with Victrex officials in Geneva. The confiscated computer was turned over to DuPont, which in turn gave it to the FBI, according to prosecutors.

Investigators told DuPont that they haven't found any evidence that Min had actually turned the stolen information over to any of his new colleagues, DuPont senior VP and general counsel Stacey Mobley said in a statement.

Min's actions have landed him in a lot of trouble, but his case is hardly unique. "I've researched a bunch of cases where designers and scientists tend to view their company's intellectual property as their own, something they've created and something they want to take with them," says Dr. Eric Shaw, a clinical psychologist and former CIA intelligence officer who for the past two decades has studied insider threats. "As a result, they'll often ignore nondisclosure agreements and other intellectual-property mechanisms."

While many companies worry about departed employees stealing intellectual property through some sort of back door planted in their IT systems, 75% of the 40 proprietary and confidential information thefts studied between 1996 and 2002 by Carnegie Mellon's CERT program in a July 2006 study were committed by current employees, says Dawn Cappelli, a senior member of the technical staff at the CERT program at Carnegie Mellon's Software Engineering Institute. Of those current employees committing intellectual property thefts, 45% had already accepted a job offer with another company. "In between the time they have another offer and the time they leave is when they take the information," she says.

The best way to guard against insider breaches is for companies to monitor database and network access for unusual activity and set thresholds that represent acceptable use for different users. If an employee starts downloading thousands of documents, and this is unusual for the job designation, this should automatically trip red flags to an administrator or manager.

Another important measure is for companies to do account audits to make sure there aren't accounts for employees who don't exist or who no longer work for the company, Cappelli says, adding, "Companies should know all of the accounts their employees have access to."

Editor's note: This story was modified Feb. 16 to more accurately describe when Min left DuPont and joined Victrex.

Comment  | 
Print  | 
More Insights
Newest First  |  Oldest First  |  Threaded View
The Agile Archive
The Agile Archive
When it comes to managing data, donít look at backup and archiving systems as burdens and cost centers. A well-designed archive can enhance data protection and restores, ease search and e-discovery efforts, and save money by intelligently moving data from expensive primary storage systems.
Register for InformationWeek Newsletters
White Papers
Current Issue
Top IT Trends to Watch in Financial Services
IT pros at banks, investment houses, insurance companies, and other financial services organizations are focused on a range of issues, from peer-to-peer lending to cybersecurity to performance, agility, and compliance. It all matters.
Twitter Feed
InformationWeek Radio
Archived InformationWeek Radio
Join us for a roundup of the top stories on for the week of July 17, 2016. We'll be talking with the editors and correspondents who brought you the top stories of the week to get the "story behind the story."
Sponsored Live Streaming Video
Everything You've Been Told About Mobility Is Wrong
Attend this video symposium with Sean Wisdom, Global Director of Mobility Solutions, and learn about how you can harness powerful new products to mobilize your business potential.