An organization’s success often hinges on its ability to use its proprietary knowledge to gain a competitive advantage over other companies. A manufacturing enterprise would value its production process and techniques very highly. Similarly, a firm engaged in trading activity would place great importance on its client list and the names of its prospective customers.
In fact, there is a great deal of information that every business would like to keep to itself. If a rival gets access to a firm’s internal communication and documents, it could lead to customers being lured away, falling business volumes, and a decline in profits.
What sort of information would an industrial spy who targets a chemical company be looking for?
- Customer details – particulars about a firm’s sales volumes and price realizations would be invaluable to a rival. If your competitor could gain access to the emails that you exchange with the companies that buy your products, it would give them a significant advantage.
- Marketing plans – imagine a situation where your marketing campaign is revealed to your rival before it is launched. Your competitor may introduce a superior product at a lower price to counter your efforts.
- Trade secrets – if details about your products or those that you are planning to launch are stolen, it could do great harm to your organization.
Steps to protect yourself from industrial espionage
While it is not easy to stop a determined industrial spy from hacking into your computer system or gaining access to your confidential information by other means, there are several simple measures that you can take to secure your data.
Many information leaks are the result of lax procedures or of employees taking a casual attitude to the systems that the IT department has implemented. In other instances, employees may not even be aware that they are following practices that could reveal the company’s secrets to cyber spies. Of course, there is also the possibility that an employee may be provided with illegal gratification in exchange for the firm’s proprietary data.
Here are some specific measures that you can take to reduce the risk of your information being stolen.
- Conduct background checks before hiring new employees – this is a good practice to follow as a general rule. You may come across some information that the prospective employee has been hiding. Contacting the candidate’s previous bosses is also a good idea.
You should also consider keeping a tab on the staff that has access to the company’s confidential data. Are any of them suddenly living an extravagant lifestyle? Is any worker’s expenditure obviously much greater than the salary that you pay? While there could be a perfectly good explanation for these changes, they could also be indications of illegal payoffs.
- Devise and implement a security policy – Most firms do have a policy in place, but it is often not observed. Co-workers should be educated about the dangers of sharing passwords. If your staff is allowed to bring their own devices to work, you should understand how this could impact your company’s data.
Every firm will have certain data that is highly confidential. Your security policy should restrict access to this data to only those staff members who need this information. If the firm’s important documents are accessible by a large number of employees, it will be hard to track where the leak took place in the event of the data being stolen.
- Keep track of employees who resign or are terminated – often, data-theft is carried out in the last days or weeks of work. Your termination procedure should prevent employees who are leaving the company from carrying confidential information with them.
It could happen to you
David Liou, a 25-year veteran of Dow Chemicals at its Plaquemine plant is Louisiana was accused of industrial espionage and selling the company’s trade secrets to Chinese chemical companies. He was convicted in 2011.
No company is safe from industrial espionage, but implementing a well-devised security policy could reduce the probability of your data getting stolen.
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