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Monsanto sues ex-employee accused of stealing data

Controversial agriculture and biotech giant Monsanto has filed a lawsuit against former employee Jiunn-Ren Chen, accusing him of stealing 52 files from its computer systems.

Chen, who worked as a programmer for Monsanto, is said to have accessed sensitive information nine days after he told the firm that he was resigning, reports Jacob Bunge at the WSJ:

Mr. Chen told Monsanto on June 1 that he was resigning and planned to return to Taiwan to care for his sick father and take over the family business there, according to the lawsuit. That same day, he turned over his company-issued computers, which Monsanto officials analyzed as per company policy. The analysis showed Mr. Chen’s computers contained “highly sophisticated and unauthorized software” that could be used to monitor activity and siphon away data, according to the suit.

While monitoring activity around Mr. Chen’s access credentials, Monsanto discovered that on June 10, his credentials were used to remove files from Monsanto’s systems, the company said. His last official day of work was expected to be June 14, the lawsuit says.

When Monsanto asked Mr. Chen about the removed files, he attributed it to a “hacker” but also said he was considering a job offer at a seed company based in Wuhan, China, court papers said. According to the lawsuit, he said he had previously been in contact with Mo Hailong, a Chinese citizen who earlier this year pleaded guilty to participating in a long-running plot to steal genetically pure corn seeds developed by Monsanto and DuPont Co.

The WSJ reports that Monsanto is also keen to access and rifle through Chen's "cloud data storage accounts", to see if any other company data might be stored there.

Moral of the story? Have a clear policy of revoking access rights to sensitive information when workers are in the process of leaving your business.

Monsanto, the world's largest producer of genetically modified seeds, has stirred worldwide protests for its successful lobbying against the mandatory labelling of food containing genetically modified organisms (GMOs), and is no stranger to security breaches and hacking attacks.