UK employees could potentially expose confidential company data by sharing or accessing sensitive information, a new opinion poll has found.

One in 12 employees would happily share sensitive information with friends at rival companies and over a fifth admit to attempting to access protected files, the poll published by content security provider Websense revealed from a survey of 100 employees.

Over half believed their company would have no way of knowing whether they took or accidentally sent sensitive information outside the company. The vendor said its findings highlight how endemic the problem of information security is; “it is not just about theft and disgruntled employees but can be nothing more than an employee not thinking before acting, despite innocent intentions,” it said.

Nearly half (46%) openly admitted to allowing friends and family to use their company laptop – which allowed one-click access to their company’s sensitive information. Nearly a third (31%) had tried to guess the administrator’s password for their PC, with 21% having confessed to trying to access protected files, including finance and human resources data.

An alarmingly high amount of those surveyed (65%) had sent potentially confidential information to insecure personal web-mail accounts like Yahoo! and Hotmail to work from home, while one in 10 accidentally sent out sensitive company information via email. And 52% of employees admitted to trying to hack into a colleague’s email account.

Frank Coggrave, Western European regional director at Websense said: “Even if actions are completely innocent, the implications are huge for companies leaving their data security to chance. There are so many potential holes in security that can expose an organisation. Not taking proactive steps to secure confidential data can lead to extremely costly information leaks.”