Businesses operate successfully in a competitive market by having something unique. Whether it’s a product idea, process or market research data, the information you use to set your business above the rest is valuable to your competitors. In every industry companies have their own trade secrets: the unique ideas that put bread on the table. For every secret sauce, however, there are competitors trying to recreate your recipe or even steal it from you. All businesses gather intelligence about their competitors, but stealing intellectual property crosses the boundary from rivalry to criminality. Corporate services from Dion International can help protect your business from corporate espionage.
Many people think of corporate espionage, or industrial espionage, as a dangerous drama that happens only at the highest levels of major companies. This misconception often leaves smaller businesses unprotected, assuming their secrets aren’t valuable enough to steal. Most often, an industrial spy is hired by a competitor to gain access to your sensitive information. Spies use covert methods of attack such as computer hacking or going undercover, making them hard to spot.
Corporate espionage, corporate spying or industrial espionage is the use of covert techniques on behalf of organisations (rather than nations), for financial or commercial gain. This includes acquiring intellectual property by theft or unlawful means, such as hacking or the use of hidden monitoring devices (bugs). Targets may include patent information, industrial manufacturing processes, or research. Corporate spying is a lucrative high risk, high reward business, as confidential information or competitive intelligence is valuable to other companies.
Industrial espionage can be as simple as an insider transferring trade secrets to a competitor. This might be a disgruntled employee or someone who has been headhunted out of your business, taking information with them.
Other times, espionage techniques in corporate spheres can be more dramatic, the following techniques are all classed as industrial espionage:
It is important not to overstep the legal boundaries afforded the situation in the course of your investigation. An objective outsider, such as Dion International, may be able to gather evidence without risk to the company.
In the UK, legal accountability for corporate espionage depends on each individual case, as the activities involved vary. Laws that relate to corporate espionage include the Data Protection Act 2018 and, more strongly, the Trade Secrets Directive 2018. The Trade Secrets Directive provides a basic level of protection for companies by:
Trade secrets are defined as information that is required to be secret and which has commercial value because it is confidential. Companies must keep information which they regard as trade secrets out of the common company knowledge in order to make a claim that they have been stolen.
The consequences recommended for the misuse of trade secrets are often interim and final injunctions. However, proportional interim actions may be granted by the judiciary without notifying the respondent. These include search and seizure orders, preservation orders (requiring the respondent to preserve any evidence before the trial) and Delivery Up orders. Delivery Up orders require the culprit to give information, such as a sound copy of their electronic files, to be reviewed in legal proceedings. If the circumstances demand it, these orders can be made ‘on the door step’. This demands the immediate production of the material without prior warning. This kind of order is used where the risk of evidence being deleted is high.
If secrets are leaked to your competitors, they could be used to directly copy your products or processes, to undercut you in business deals or block plans instrumental in your success. Competitors will increase their market share at the expense of your company, reducing your revenue and putting you at risk of bankruptcy.
Unfortunately, the techniques of corporate espionage are constantly changing. Stay ahead of the game by monitoring new employees closely. Look out for those who appear to have the knowledge they shouldn’t, are found in restricted areas or ask about confidential subjects.
Employees who are leaving to join competitors are also at risk of being headhunted, particularly if they are vulnerable to blackmail.
An employee stealing company secrets will almost always behave strangely. None of the signs listed here is definitive evidence of spying, but managers should look out for and take note of any of these signs.
Compromised employees might work strange hours without permission, or attempt to access restricted areas. They might unnecessarily copy classified material, take the information home, either as a hard copy or on personal hard drives. They may send proprietary information via email without authorisation.
If the employee is selling information to a more sophisticated power, they might ignore company policies about installing personal software or hardware. They may also take frequent short, unexplained holidays in other countries.
It is important to take note if an employee behaves in ways that suggest paranoia. This could be showing excessive concern about being investigated, leaving traps in their home or office or looking for listening devices or cameras. These cases warrant a conversation from a place of concern first, as they may need help with mental health concerns. They may be trying to alert you to spying they have spotted. While paranoia is not an admission of guilt, this behaviour would be reasonably expected of someone who is hiding their own actions.
As with all cases of unscrupulous employees, a careful and objective hand is necessary when you suspect someone of stealing company secrets. Employers might consider hiring an investigator to gather more information or evidence before proceeding.
It’s important to ensure that you protect your business and that all employees maintain the highest standards of security. Make clear that it is a collective responsibility to protect the company from outside aggressors, and that everyone needs to be vigilant. Set up basic protocols for storing laptops, memory sticks and hard drives and ensure employees do not leave these unattended. Install security checkpoints at various points throughout the premises and ask all guests to sign in at reception.
As a company owner, it can be difficult to know how to investigate employees safely and without damaging a valued working relationship. If your employee is showing signs that they might be trading corporate secrets, it is important to be able to investigate discreetly, without making it common knowledge and alerting the suspect.
Dion International is equipped with specialised legal knowledge to support a proportional response to any suspected corporate or industrial espionage. Dion international are experts in surveillance, allowing us to track a suspected employee to ascertain their movements. By using an accredited company, specialising in corporate investigations, you get high-quality evidence without personal risk.
Corporate investigation services also include bug sweeping. This is a method of searching for hidden monitoring devices such as microphones and cameras, that record confidential information or trade secrets. At Dion international, we offer our clients access to lie detector testing. In a case of suspected corporate espionage, it may be helpful to rule out the involvement of certain colleagues by using this bio-metric test.
We have extensive local knowledge of every close, residential area, office block and industrial estate within the city centre and surrounding areas. Our areas stretch from South Queensferry to Berwick, we cover East Lothian localities, such as Musselburgh, Tranent, Haddington and Dunbar. West Lothian localities, such as Livingston, Bathgate, Whitburn and Armadale. The Borders, such as Hawick, Galashiels, Jedburgh and Duns.