Half of IT staff admit that they could hold their employers hostage by withholding or hiding encryption keys.

A survey of 500 IT security specialists found that 40 per cent could hold their employers hostage, as they have access to vital information and could manipulate it to their own ends and to their company's financial and reputational detriment.

A third (31 per cent) said that they could still have access to the organisation's data because they could easily take the encryption keys with them when they left and access the information remotely. Twenty-four per cent of respondents admitted that their fear of losing encryption keys is what is deterring them from investing encryption key and certificate solutions to protect digital assets.

Jeff Hudson, CEO of Venafi, said: “It is a shame that so many people have been sold encryption but not the means or knowledge to manage it. They have found out the hard way after being locked out from their own information, that they need an automated solution to manage the thousands of keys and certificates they have.

“Once the data is protected with encryption, the key becomes the data and the thing that must be managed and protected. What this survey reveals is that organisations have to quickly get to grips with automating key and certificate management, the keys are crucial to safeguarding your whole enterprise.”

The survey also found that 82 per cent of companies now use digital certificates and keys, while 76 per cent would use an automation tool if it was available.