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Reducing the Risks of Economic Espionage

In 1996 the United States government made it a federal crime to gather trade secrets for economic benefits.  While economic espionage makes a great subject for movies, economic espionage is a real threat to businesses with secrets to keep. As we are sure you have heard, the recent events around Apple’s iPhone 4 are a perfect example of how economic espionage can hurt a business, especially one that everyone is watching.

Here is how the economic espionage unfolded: The world is watching waiting for any hint of a new iPhone and a prominent blog is trying to get the information.  Said blogger obtains information for pay, and releases it on their blog.  Once the information is leaked, it creates a snowball effect causing Apple to release a phone to market that isn’t properly tested and has antenna issues. This causes Apple millions of dollars in damage not only with advertising dollars, public relations and the cost of giving early adopters “bumpers” for their phone trying to save face. While this is economic espionage at its most extreme, most companies don’t even know that economic espionage is happening to them.

So how do you protect your company from economic espionage?  Security Consultants work with a company to identify risks for economic espionage, and you would be surprised how often security consultants find security risks in the most obvious places.

Thinking of economic espionage, most likely your idea is something influenced by Hollywood.  A hacker is hired to break in and steal sensitive data, but we find that most economic espionage leaks are people leaving an office door unlocked, or a key employee having one too many drinks at a bar and spilling sensitive data to a seemingly harmless patron.  “Desk top surveillance” is the classic and simplest cause of sensitive information loss.  This is where an unthinking holder of sensitive information, leaves documents on his desk at the end of the day and night time employees or cleaning crews have free access to this information.  The “Clear Desk” policy is the simplest defense against this oversight.   No one goes home before everything on their desk is securely locked away.

Today’s world is safer than ever, but we need to remain vigilant if we are going to protect sensitive economic data from the world’s top economic espionage experts. Just because something is against the law, unfortunately doesn’t mean people wont do it.