Different Ways Corporate Spies Could Be Watching Your Business

(and How to Safeguard Against It)

corporate espionage
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It’s like a spy novel out there sometimes. Hacks, computer breaches, and corporate espionage have been making the news. Big time!

But corporate espionage isn’t anything new and it’s not limited to technology. For instance, In the 1800s, Britain’s East India Co. stole secrets, tea plants, and seeds out of China to go on to dominate the tea industry.

And in 1997 an employee of Gillette stole a new razor design and sent it to a group of Gillette’s main competitors—he ended up going to jail for 27 months.

Even giants like Google aren’t immune. In 2010, Google wrote a blog post that talked about a sophisticated cyber-attack that originated in China a month before and ended up with a bunch of Google’s intellectual property going missing.

You could be the victim of corporate espionage.

As your business grows it becomes more and more likely to fall victim to other people trying to get to your secrets of success. It’s important to protect yourself.

What Does Corporate Espionage Look Like?

A friend of mine likes to watch the NCIS franchise on TV. But she often says… “It’s a good thing there aren’t this many dead sailors in real life”.

The same kind of thing happens with corporate espionage. It looks glamorous in spy movies, but it’s usually not very glamorous at all. But… even if corporate espionage is as dull as a doornail, it can still do huge amounts of damage to your company.

One thing that corporate espionage is NOT is the legal activities of competitor research. A competitor going through the public records of your company is completely, 100 percent fair game.

Types of Industrial Espionage

Industrial corporate espionage usually involves theft. This can include the theft of recipes, techniques, chemical formulas, proprietary information, and intellectual property.

Usually, this involves people getting hired behind the scenes and stealing secrets either for financial gain or to get back to the company that they perceived has hurt them.

Occasionally, corporate espionage will involve actual break-ins. Sometimes this is done in person, but more often it’s them to hacking.

A newer type of industrial espionage—which has been shown in some popular TV shows like Grey’s Anatomy—is to use malware to lock people out of their computer systems.

How to Protect Yourself From Corporate Espionage

Treat your employees well and be careful who you hire. One of the sources of corporate espionage is disgruntled employees, who steal trade secrets and then spread them around because they’re angry.

So it's important to have a company culture where your employees are happy. It’s also important to be careful who you hire for any position. By hiring people that are the right fit for the job, you end up with less chances of a disgruntled employee who will try to pull you down with them.

Use secure passwords and double verification where possible. Passwords can get overwhelming. And because of this a lot of people use the same password for everything. This is incredibly dangerous. It leaves you open to hacking and malicious software.

Instead, use a password management software tool. These tools—such as LastPass—allow you to set complicated passwords for each of your sites, but you only have to remember a single password. This really helps to increase security.

Also, where you can—especially on critical systems—use double authentication. Stripe is an example of a company that uses double authentication. When you log into their system to view your payments, they will send you a code to your phone that you have to input before you can see anything.

This gives an extra layer of protection.

Monitor employee activity. Because a great deal of corporate espionage is performed by employees, monitoring employee activity is crucial. You can easily track employee activity on all digital systems through simple software. There are many software packages the market that do this. And the key to making this work is to be transparent about what you’re doing.

No one likes to be spied on, but employees do expect to be monitored. So, make sure you disclose the monitoring.

Nearly any company can be the victim of corporate espionage. It can be in the form of a cyber-attack from without but is most likely to be a threat that comes from within your own company. Taking steps to prevent the stealing of trade secrets is important to your success.