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Insights & Trends 4 min read

Corporate espionage, a clear and present danger

Corporate espionage, a clear and present danger

How intellectual property theft endangers businesses and affects the global economy.

Corporate espionage, also known as industrial or economic espionage, is the practice of one corporation stealing secrets from another for the purpose of gaining a commercial or financial advantage. Much like the government-employed spies we see in movies about the Cold War, corporate spies are employed by rival businesses and paid to apply very similar spying techniques. Well, minus the murdering part. It is hardly surprising that many ex-CIA and ex-MI6 agents have become corporate spies for hire. They generally consider stealing trade secrets, such as scientific research or engineering innovations, a more lucrative and less stressful career path than stealing government secrets.

The high price of low security

When its trade secrets get stolen by a competitor, a corporation might lose overnight not just its competitive edge, but its reputation as well. Theft of intellectual property can cause whole sectors of the economy to weaken and to lag behind in the global marketplace. This report, estimated the low-end cost of trade secrets theft to U.S. businesses at $180 billion, or 1% of U.S. GDP. Due to the reputation-destroying effect of such incidents however, many corporate espionage cases go unreported. This is why, according to the same report, the high-end estimate could be around $540 billion, amounting to 3% of GDP. 

Even high-profile companies like Apple ought to be doing a better job at fending off corporate spies and protecting their sensitive data. Last year, Apple, together with the FBI, accused one of its engineers of stealing trade secrets related to autonomous cars. What prompted the investigation was another employee accidentally spotting the engineer in question taking photographs in a restricted-access area. Thousands of files containing Apple's intellectual property, including manuals, schematics, and diagrams, were found on the engineer's computer. He was apprehended by authorities just a day before he was supposed to board a flight to China where he had applied for a job at a company working on a competing autonomous driving project.

Protecting your company

Espionage can affect companies of any size. A spy could be anyone around you – a disgruntled employee, a supplier working for your competitor, or anyone who can somehow gain access to your network.

Many companies still fail to install the necessary preventative measures and, consequently, remain vulnerable to incidents of corporate espionage.

Here are four tips on how to protect your company's secrets:

1. Educate your workforce

Inform your employees about the threats of corporate espionage and intellectual property theft. Help them understand that by protecting the integrity of your network, they are protecting, by extension, their own livelihood. An informed employee is a vigilant employee.

2. Screen your personnel

If you have sensitive business information on your company network, consider which employees have access to it. Have you done the necessary background checks on them (where legally permitted)? Are you sure they are happy to be working for you? It might be a good idea to touch base with them every so often to make sure they are satisfied with their position in your company.

3. Secure your network

It might be prudent to separate the network that holds your sensitive data from your corporate network. Consider hiring a certified information security professional to implement appropriate security technologies (firewalls, encryption, intrusion detection, etc.). Only allow access to the secure network to employees who actually need to access it.

4. Thwart corporate espionage with HERE location intelligence

One increasingly common technique used by corporate spies and malicious hackers is posing as an employee in order to log into your network and steal confidential information. This is where HERE's location verification becomes useful. Our HERE Network Positioning is a reliable location technology that helps you to apply an additional layer of security to the system. It can be used to check from which location the request of an employee is originating. Click to learn more.

George Koynov

George Koynov

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