Corporate espionage or economic espionage has become a high stake game in the business arena across the world. Often, it involves both ethical and unethical means of acquiring information that can create an advantage over competitors. The extent of this challenge is best evidenced in the billions of dollars spent each year by corporations to spy on each other to get financial and competitive information. Businesses are known to engage government and ex-military agents who are well-versed in the art of spying and gathering intelligence. Such individuals are usually placed in charge of corporate divisions charged primarily with obtaining vital information from competitors. Many companies lose billions of dollars annually to the theft of valuable data and trade secrets. Information from the Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) and Computer Security Institute indicate that many corporations rarely report intrusions into their computer systems in order to avoid public humiliation, negative publicity, and class-action lawsuits.
How it is Done
Today, many companies have significantly secured their systems through both technical and non-technical methods to limit espionage. Much of the valuable information is strongly encrypted and unavailable to unauthorized people. Nevertheless, the primary challenge arises from the network printer. Once a user sends a document containing valuable information to the network printer, many of the security measures become useless. Any person can easily walk and pick the document before the intended user retrieves it. In order to limit the chances of printouts getting into the wrong hands, many companies have adopted technology measures such as biometric devices. For instance, through SecurePrint program, a document is held in a print queue until the sender can obtain it through a biometric fingerprint scanner. Another popular method used in corporate espionage is the Faithful Keylogger. Certain programs are used to capture and email the keystrokes of anyone using a specified computer where the program is already preinstalled. Consequently, one party can receive confidential corporate data without having to leave the office. Industrial espionage of this nature has become quite common as companies seek to alienate their competitors. For instance, several cases have emerged where businesses in China have been spying on American corporations and stealing huge volumes of sensitive information.
In the modern age of wireless communications, many organizations use such technologies for industrial espionage purposes. Although many safeguards have developed to protect systems from unauthorized wireless intrusion, new technologies are constantly emerging to allow covert access to secure systems. Many companies have made great strides in securing their wireless network, but little effort has been focused on securing the wireless client. As a result, simple Wi-Fi phishing methods have been used in the past to capture much corporate information. Similarly, the capacity of modern USB devices has considerably increased while their sizes have reduced. USB drives have therefore become some of the best ways of transferring corporate data both into and out of the system. Such drives can easily be sneaked into the workplace since they come in a variety of integrated products in order to camouflage them. Economic espionage in this respect is typically intended to acquire information on intellectual property, manufacturing ideas, methods, techniques, and formulas. Considering the high cost of research and development, many corporations are willing to engage in industrial espionage to save millions of dollars and time.
Cases of Corporate Espionage
Cases of industrial espionage abound in the corporate environment. In 2009, the American hospitality giant Hilton, was accused of stealing sensitive information from its rival Starwood. The case involved Hilton unlawfully obtaining critical information pertaining to luxury brand ideas and using them in its own hotels. Additionally, in 2010, Google China accused several Chinese companies and universities of engaging in corporate espionage against its facilities and systems. The attacks were part of a larger scheme known as Operation Aurora which involved Chinese state-owned corporations engaging in industrial espionage against Western companies in the defense, finance, and technology sectors. In China, industrial espionage against foreign companies is very sophisticated and often supported by the state authorities. In 2010, a former employee at Boeing admitted in court that he had stolen very sensitive information from the company on aerospace technology and sold it to Chinese companies.
Many US nuclear energy and aerospace companies are constant targets for Chinese hackers working for military companies. Silicon Valley, due to its technology might, is recognized as the most targeted area for corporate espionage. In recent years, economic espionage has taken many forms involving the sabotage of competitor information. Some companies opt to sabotage critical information to curtail the ability of the competitor to operate effectively. Economic espionage largely occurs across borders where one corporation targets another foreign company as a means of gaining a competitive edge in the market. Agencies such as the FBI and the National Counterintelligence and Security Center have attempted to raise awareness on the extent of this challenge and the need for companies to take aggressive measures to protect their information.
The methods used in corporate espionage evolve daily. Consequently, it is important for companies to regularly update their security features and adopt new measures. Currently, corporate espionage is driven by the need to beat competition and sabotage competitors. As businesses become large in the face of globalization, corporate espionage will only increase. Risk assessments should be routinely conducted to identify vulnerabilities and protect sensitive information. More importantly, there is a need to create awareness on this challenge and train all employees on how to guard business information.