Software

Permanently deleting files at work could result in a lawsuit


Before you permanently delete a file at work, you should know that it could potentially come back to bite you in the butt. Check out this news story: "Police blotter: Ex-employee sued for deleting files."

According to the article, "The Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA) says whoever 'knowingly causes damage without authorization' to a networked computer can face civil and criminal liability. (It was intended to be used to prosecute computer hackers, but Congress did a sloppy job in drafting it.) ...the same logic applies to any employee who secure-deletes personal files from a work computer. A blog post from Bradley Nahrstadt, an Illinois attorney, says that 'simply labeling the information 'personal' and then deleting it would not, in my opinion, protect the employee from the full reach' of the CFAA."

Of course, permanently deleting files and e-mails requires more than just hitting the Delete key on your keyboard. "In most operating systems, 'deleting' a file removes only references to it in the directory structure but the file's contents can remain on the hard drive until they're eventually overwritten. Utilities like PGP, open-source programs such as Wipe, and a built-in feature in Apple's OS X called Secure Empty Trash can ensure the data has truly vanished."

So, what should an employee do to get rid of any incriminating evidence? "A better solution would probably be to save all personal files to a USB stick or portable hard drive that is not owned by your employer. Even better, use Web-based services for e-mail or bring your own laptop to work."    

About

Sonja Thompson has worked for TechRepublic since October of 1999. She is currently a Senior Editor and the host of the Smartphones and Tablets blogs.

4 comments
BALTHOR
BALTHOR

You could put all the files that are to be deleted in a date titled folder on your desktop.In another put your e mails(archive e mail)that are to be deleted.These folders could be copied to a CD once a month.You could do the same for e mail that you need to save.(note:not all ISP's offer e mail archiving)

Crypl
Crypl

This does not ensure you are safe from the CFAA because you are still placing personal files on the hard drive of a business computer before burning them to a CD and deleting them. The only way to be truly safe is to never have your personal files on a work computer to begin with. Most places I know of have policies in place that forbid the use of company hardware for personal uses anyway. This is just a very sloppily written law that can be easily exploited if your employer has a grudge against you, and you haven't done any actual corporate espionage.

Dr Dij
Dr Dij

'get rid of the incriminating evidence'.. Here's the best suggestion: put all incriminating files in one folder, labled 'Incriminating_Evidence_Illegal_Activities_Top_Secret' then put right click and drag to your desk top and left click on 'create shortcut' to this. Then copy the folder to a networked drive, so there will be a backup copy of it. Preferably not just your personal space on the shared drive but the company file shareing portion also. Add '_' in front of the folder name, so it will show on top, so you don't forget where it is and others will notice it. Finally do an email blast, to everyone at your company with a link to the folder. You could attach the folder but it might be too large. Just to be on the safe side, if something particularly heinous, such as a murder or child porn or evidence of your Enron like stock tampering or admitting to rigging the california energy market to hurt grannies, adding rat poison to pet foot, or pre-dated options, CC the FBI, at really_bad_crimes@FBI.GOV That should do it! Now you're totally covered. I personally GUARANTEE that you will NOT BE HIT BY A LAWSUIT charging you with deleting files related to crimes, or evem just deleting files.

Sonja Thompson
Sonja Thompson

Dr Dij, that is one of the funniest things I've heard in a long time. Thanks for the chuckle!

Editor's Picks