Corporate espionage: a real threat

Monday, 13 October 2003, 3:30 PM EST

Believe it or not, the odds are that trusted employees in your company are right now stealing your product designs, business models, marketing plans, research and development files, and other intellectual property. Just ask the executives at Avery Dennison, Eastman Kodak, Gillette, Joy Mining Machinery, PPG, and many other companies—large and small—that have lost thousands of research hours and millions of dollars through corporate and industrial espionage.

Also known as economic espionage, this is an issue within the IT security market that's often overlooked in favor of more newsworthy and sometimes less-complex events, such as malicious computer viruses or network hacks. Yet carefully planned economic espionage does more to damage business than any other security intrusion. Despite numerous government and private-sector studies that warned of the growing threat of economic espionage, most American business executives haven't felt any sense of urgency to take action, and few companies have taken protective measures.

As you might imagine, stealing trade secrets is hardly a new concept. The United States is the world's economic giant, and the pressures of globalization and competition have led to increased economic espionage against U.S. companies. In response, the U.S. Congress passed the Economic Espionage Act of 1996 (EEA), which imposes prison terms up to 15 years and fines up to $10 million for stealing trade secrets.

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