When you hear the word espionage you probably picture James Bond, but espionage isn’t just something that you find in movies, it’s something that could affect your business too. Corporate espionage is a bigger problem than people realize and companies lose billions every year as a result.
Corporate espionage refers to any instance of somebody stealing information about your business and using it to further their own business interests. Maybe your competitors want to know what your new product is going to be so they can make their own version and put it out before you. Perhaps you have a revolutionary manufacturing process that allows you to reduce costs and undercut your competitors, and they want to know how you do it. Knowing what rival companies are planning to do next gives you a huge advantage, which is why many people still engage in corporate espionage.
There are a number of ways that other companies might try to gain information about you. In the past, the easiest way would be for somebody to get a job with your company and then report back, and this is still a common strategy. But these days, cyber-attacks are also used for corporate espionage purposes, so it’s becoming more difficult to protect yourself. People may also attempt to network with your employees and get information out of them and in some cases, they could even attempt to break into your office, although this is rare.
If you don’t have a clear strategy in place to protect against corporate espionage, your business is at risk. These are some of the best ways to reduce that risk.
Be Cautious When Hiring
It might seem over the top for a rival company to get somebody to apply for a job with your company but it does happen occasionally. However, the main issue is with disgruntled employees who decide to go over to a rival company so they can sell your secrets. If you hire people that are disloyal and generally self-serving, they will jump at the chance to earn some extra cash on the side by engaging in industrial espionage. But if you hire people that are on the same page as you and share in your passion for the business, it’s much less likely that they will sell your secrets.
Before hiring anybody, you should always conduct a thorough background check to see if there is anything concerning in their past. References should give you a good idea of how trustworthy they are too. A person’s job history can sometimes give an indication of whether they have been involved in industrial espionage in the past as well. If somebody jumps from job to job and only stays in one place for a short while, that’s a concern, especially if they return to a company that they have already worked for in the past. In fact, anything that indicates a connection to one of your competitors should always be a cause for concern.
Watch For Lifestyle And Behavior Changes
Lifestyle changes are one of the biggest giveaways when somebody is engaged in corporate espionage. Have you noticed an employee suddenly turning up to work in a brand new sports car that they probably couldn’t afford on the salary that you pay them? Maybe they’re just good at budgeting or they made some investments that paid off, but maybe they’re earning some more money on the side somewhere. If you notice any big changes to their lifestyle, that’s a cause for concern. Don’t start accusing them right away because there could be a perfectly innocent explanation, but you should keep an eye on them.
Changes to their behavior are common when somebody is involved in corporate espionage too. If an employee that normally leaves the office at 5 o’clock on the dot suddenly starts staying late every day, they might be waiting for everybody to leave the office so they can snoop around. If people start asking for access to documents that are unrelated to their job, that’s a bad sign too.
There are a lot of reasons for changes in somebody’s behavior or lifestyle so don’t jump to any conclusions, just be aware that something could be going on.
Use Non Disclosure Agreements
Non disclosure agreements are the best way to give yourself legal protection against corporate espionage. When somebody signs a non disclosure agreement, they acknowledge that they are going to have access to sensitive information and sharing that sensitive information with anybody outside of the business breaks the agreement. So, if an employee engages in corporate espionage, you have the right to sue them for compensation. Not only does this provide a great deterrent and reduce the chances of corporate espionage, but it also helps you to recoup the losses caused by information leaks. You can use this simple non disclosure agreement template to create contracts for all new and existing employees so you are protected. Depending on the nature of the business, you may even want to give agreements to people that interview for positions, even if they don’t get the job.
Create A Shredding Policy
A shredder is one of the most important pieces of security equipment in your office. If you have documents containing sensitive company information just lying around the office, you make it so easy for somebody to steal that information and sell it on. You should limit what you print out and only print things that are absolutely necessary. Keeping a close eye on permissions and ensuring people only have access to information if they need it to do their job is important too. However, a comprehensive shredding policy is one of the best ways you can protect your business. Keep track of all documents that you print and as soon as something is no longer relevant, shred it immediately. This will drastically reduce instances of corporate espionage and make it easier to keep on top of the paperwork in your office. Make sure to use a cross-cut shredder for added security and never throw anything in the bin without shredding it because somebody could easily get it out.
Improve Your Cyber-Security
Although a lot of corporate espionage comes from the inside, cyber-attacks are a serious threat and all businesses need to take steps to protect against them. If a rival business is able to gain access to your computer systems, they can see everything, so online security is absolutely essential.
Investing in the right security software is important but you also need to make sure that it is managed properly, so consider hiring a larger IT team or outsourcing to a managed IT service. Managed services are usually best for small businesses because they are cost-effective and you have access to a large team who can constantly monitor your system for signs of a breach. It’s vital that weak points are closed before rival companies are able to extract information, so fast response times are very important.
However, encouraging good cyber-security habits in your employees is probably the best way to protect yourself. If people are using weak passwords, for example, a coworker that wants to steal information can easily get onto their computer and find what they’re looking for. This will make it almost impossible to track the source of the leak and it makes it easier for information to be stolen in the first place. Using password managers is a simple way around that problem but you also need to encourage employees to be more vigilant with their computers and keep them locked when they are away from their desk.
Most business owners don’t think about corporate espionage until it affects them, by which time it’s already too late. If you want to protect your business, you need to take these steps right away.