Data Loss Prevention, Insider Risk

What is Corporate Espionage?

By Veriato Team

The term “espionage” often brings images of double agents and covert undercover missions to mind. This is how espionage is depicted in the movies, but in real life, it can take on many other forms. Businesses may not need to worry about James Bond spying on their company, but they should be concerned about corporate espionage.

Corporate espionage, often referred to as industrial espionage, is the practice of spying for financial or commercial gain. This type of espionage typically involves one organization spying on another in order to obtain information that could benefit their business or harm their competitor’s business.

Corporate espionage poses a serious threat to businesses of all sizes and in all industries, which is why it’s important to know how this activity can occur and what you can do to stop it.

What Are Common Types of Corporate Espionage?

Corporate espionage can occur in a number of different ways. Some of the most common types include:

  • Hacking into a company’s network to access sensitive information
  • Attacking a company’s website with malware or viruses
  • Using phishing or email spoofing scams to get confidential information from a company’s employees
  • A disgruntled employee stealing their employer’s sensitive information or sending it to a competitor
  • A disgruntled employee working with a competitor in order to steal or access sensitive information from their employer on the competitor’s behalf
  • An employee taking their employer’s information with them after being hired by a competitor

These are some of the many ways that corporate espionage can occur. As you can see, a corporate spy does not need high-tech spy gadgets in order to engage in this activity. All it takes to commit corporate espionage is access to your company’s sensitive information.

What is Corporate Espionage?

What is the Goal of Corporate Espionage?

An organization that spies on their competitor is typically seeking specific information such as:

  • Manufacturing processes
  • Pricing
  • Sales
  • Research and development
  • Customer lists
  • Prospective bids
  • Marketing plans
  • Intellectual property

The goal is to obtain some type of private information that can be used to give their organization a competitive edge.

Corporate Espionage In A Remote Working World

Many companies allow their employees to work remotely for all or part of their workweek. Remote work has become even more common over the last several months due to the coronavirus pandemic, which has forced millions of people to work from home.

Remote work gives employees more flexibility, but it also creates new cybersecurity challenges, including:

  • Employees may need to use software they are unfamiliar with in order to work remotely. If they use this software incorrectly, or choose the wrong settings, they could create gaps in security.
  • Many companies who are allowing their employees to work remotely for the first time may not provide remote workers with company-owned laptops, desktops, and smartphones. As a result, employees may use their own devices, which are more vulnerable to security breaches.
  • Remote workers rely heavily on email to stay connected to co-workers. Using their email more frequently could put them at a higher risk of falling for a phishing scam.
  • Employees who are struggling to adjust to working from home may become disgruntled, which could motivate them to engage in corporate espionage.
  • If a company terminates a remote worker, they need to act quickly in order to cut off the worker’s access to sensitive information and collect company devices in the worker’s possession.

These issues that are unique to the remote working world need to be addressed in order to protect your company from corporate espionage.

Is Corporate Espionage Illegal?

Every organization is interested in learning about what their competitor is doing, which is why competitive research is legal. However, some companies cross a line by engaging in corporate espionage.

The Economic Espionage Act of 1996 (EEA) is a federal law that prohibits the use of corporate espionage to steal or misappropriate a company’s trade secrets. The following activities are prohibited under this law:

  • Stealing, taking without authorization, or obtaining by fraud a company’s trade secrets.
  • Copying, downloading, uploading, transmitting, or destroying a company’s trade secrets without authorization.
  • Knowingly receiving, buying, or possessing a company’s trade secrets that have been illegally obtained.
  • Attempting to do any of the activities listed above.

In general, it is only illegal to spy on a competitor if you are obtaining information about that competitor using illegal means. For example, it is legal to hire someone to attend trade shows and pose as a customer in an effort to learn more about how a competitor sells their products. But it is not legal to pay a competitor’s employee to steal this information and send it to you.

Anyone who violates the EEA can face serious legal consequences, including hundreds of thousands of dollars in fines and up to a decade in prison. A corporation that is involved in this type of espionage can also face millions of dollars in fines.

How Can You Protect Your Company From Corporate Espionage?

There’s no doubt that corporate espionage can severely harm a business. For this reason, it’s important to put a plan in place to protect your company from this unethical and illegal activity. Some of the many ways you can prevent corporate espionage include:

  • Do your due diligence when hiring new employees. Conduct thorough background checks to ensure they are not simply trying to get a position within your organization to steal sensitive information.
  • Establish a “clean desk policy,” which outlines how every employee within the organization should leave their desk at the end of the workday. For example, employees should be required to log out of their computers and store sensitive documents in a locked drawer before leaving for the day.
  • Train employees on cybersecurity best practices so they don’t unknowingly become involved in espionage. For example, train them how to detect a phishing scheme so they don’t end up accidentally giving your competitor sensitive information.
  • Limit the use of personal devices in the workplace so your employees cannot use them to steal your company’s sensitive information.

Taking these steps can drastically reduce your risk of falling victim to corporate espionage.

How Can Employee Monitoring Software Prevent Corporate Espionage?

One of the easiest ways to prevent corporate espionage is to install employee monitoring software on your employees computers. This software can protect your company by allowing you to:

  • Monitor, record, and review onscreen activity for each employee’s computer. You will be able to see exactly what your employees are doing, which makes it easy to catch them engaging in unethical or illegal practices.
  • Detect insider threats. The software is designed to track each employee’s activity and flag any action that looks suspicious or unusual. The software will even alert you when someone engages in suspicious or unusual activity so you can take action before it’s too late.
  • Detect compromised credentials. The software will also alert you if someone uses an employee’s credentials to access your network from a new or unusual location. This way, you can alert the employee and instruct them to change their log-in information immediately.
  • Identify disgruntled workers that are likely to engage in corporate espionage. This software can analyze each employee’s emails, instant messages, and other data to identify drastic changes in their feelings toward the company.
  • Gather digital forensic evidence to support a criminal investigation. If your employee is spying on your company, use this software to gather screenshots, emails, instant messages, downloads, and other data that will help the authorities prove their case.

A single case of corporate espionage could cost your company dearly. Don’t wait until it’s too late to protect your sensitive information, customers, and business. Instead, take action now by installing employee monitoring software on your employees’ devices so you can stop corporate espionage before it happens.

Veriato’s Cerebral is the leading insider threat detection and employee monitoring software. Thousands of companies across the world have relied on Cerebral to monitor and analyze employee digital activity in order to prevent corporate espionage.

With utilizing Cerebral software, companies can finally obtain the insight they need to stop corporate spying before it harms their business. Take the first step toward protecting your company by requesting a free trial of Cerebral software today.

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About the author

Veriato Team
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