Espionage is about gathering information. When foreign interests conduct such operations it is usually called spying. When corporations seek to acquire trade secrets from a competitor, it often becomes a case for legal litigation. In business terms, just what is the best way to view stealing secrets? Investopedia defines ‘Economic Espionage’ accordingly.
“The unlawful targeting and theft of a nation’s critical economic intelligence. Economic espionage may include the clandestine acquisition or outright theft of invaluable proprietary information in a number of areas including technology, finance and government policy. Economic espionage differs from corporate or industrial espionage in a number of ways – it is likely to be state-sponsored, have motives other than profit or gain (such as closing a technology gap) and be much larger in scale and scope. Recognizing the threat from such activity, the U.S. signed the Economic Espionage Act into law in October 1996.”
When friends and foes alike tap into the databases of government agencies or companies, law enforcement often investigates. Still, there is no shortage of cyber attacks since the crown jewels of commerce and the national security of any nation is stored in the cloud.
From the government agency, Office of the National Counterintelligence Executive the study, Foreign Spies Stealing US Economic Secrets in Cyberspace sets out the problem.
“Foreign economic collection and industrial espionage against the United States represent significant and growing threats to the nation’s prosperity and security. Cyberspace—where most business activity and development of new ideas now takes place—amplifies these threats by making it possible for malicious actors, whether they are corrupted insiders or foreign intelligence services (FIS), to quickly steal and transfer massive quantities of data while remaining anonymous and hard to detect.”
This is called the network environment. It is a far cry from the days when Coca‑Cola protected their secret formula in a vault that was guarded more closely then Fort Knox.
One might say that companies certainly have a right to keep their proprietary and confidential data and information in house. However, when the tables are turned a New Report On Corporate Espionage Against Non-profits, illustrates most corporatists are simply looking for ways to crush any opposition to their monopolist practices, which are at the center of this clandestine culture.
“Many of the world’s largest corporations and their trade associations — including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Walmart, Monsanto, Bank of America, Dow Chemical, Kraft, Coca-Cola, Chevron, Burger King, McDonald’s, Shell, BP, BAE, Sasol, Brown & Williamson and E.ON – have been linked to espionage or planned espionage against nonprofit organizations, activists and whistleblowers.”
If the research or the inventive techniques of any company are private property of the owners of that enterprise, why are some of the biggest corporatists’s active in violating the privacy of groups or organizations that are working for transparency and responsible business practices?
Company whistleblowers are quite different from common thefts, employed under the reasonable expectation of trust. Just how wide spread is the risk for companies from their own insiders?
In the article, Economic Espionage: The Global Workforce and the Insider Threat, provides some stats that should alarm any CEO.
“The IBM 2015 Cyber Security Intelligence Index report provided sobering numbers: 31.5 percent of data breaches are attributable to malicious insiders and 23.5 percent are due to insider errors or nonadherence to process and policies that lead to inadvertent data breaches or disclosures.
In sum, more than 50 percent of data breach incidents in 2014 can be attributed to insiders, which is an individual with physical or remote access to a company’s infrastructure.”
Such huge numbers, who certainly are not apprentices of a real whistleblower like Jeffrey Wigand, should be held accountable. Notwithstanding, the human greed factor drives many to rip off their employer. Most of these security breaches have very little to do with a noble cause.
Should violators be prosecuted to the full extent of the law? The answer requires a deeper analysis. Who is behind the black market of buying all this valuable information? Where are the studies on vulture companies that actually encourage economic espionage?
Hopefully, this inquiry can agree that foreign penetration of firewalls that guard data should be a priority as a national policy. Encryption of the highest level might ease some concerns of business executives. But this step will never seal the door from internal betrayal.
What kind of gate keeping will protect and insure information, while maintaining as much of a free market as possible in an age of total surveillance?
The consumer faces their own economic threat on RFID credit cards. Foiling electronic pickpockets with safety sleeves seems prudent. However, a transnational conglomerate cannot wrap their operation in an aluminum shield.
Corporations are not in the business of consumer protection. Their interests have Congress taking up legislation, which is analyzed in Time to Modernize and Strengthen Trade Secret Law. Look for reports on the Defend Trade Secrets Act (DTSA). Criticism of previous efforts is found within Defend Trade Secrets Act of 2015 Faces Criticism 2.0.
This approach exemplifies the concern companies have from the loss of secrecy. Conversely, passing additional laws have never stopped methodical schemes to reap rewards from unlocking the keys used to access digital treasures.
Economic espionage may be a price of doing business, because growth and innovation are more difficult to achieve. While technology develops into uncharted fields, the map to profit has become more elusive to most ventures. The advantages of the monopolists over their rivals exist to a significant degree because they have mastered the security of their own informational systems.
Small companies inventing valuable creations are at substantial disadvantage. Maybe keeping the design and engineering blueprints off line may be the best defense from corporate hacking.
Government snoops are an entirely other matter. How can any database be safe when The U.S. Government’s Secret Plans to Spy for American Corporations is exposed? The era where “there are no secrets” has every businessman on edge.
James Hall – December 9, 2015