The Best Corporate Espionage Stories

In the early 1700’s, a French missionary left for China and returned to Europe with the secret techniques the Chinese used to produce porcelain. Père d’Entrecolles may have been one of the first industrial spies. Corporate espionage has been around for centuries and though its methods have changed through the years, it is not going away anytime soon.

Industrial espionage, to give a broad definition, is any operation or act conducted by one company to gain a competitive advantage over another. To be more specific, it is the theft of trade secrets by removing, copying, or recording the confidential information of a business for use by another company. Unfortunately, corporate espionage has only grown since the days of Père d’Entrecolles. There are countless stories of businesses of all sizes being hit by corporate espionage.

Business cartoon of businessman asking fortune teller with crystal ball, 'Can you tell me what the competition is planning in the next quarter?'.

True Stories of Corporate Espionage

Huge corporations like Google are not even immune to industrial espionage. In early 2010, China launched a cyberattack against the company to steal their intellectual property.  Ginormous oil companies in Europe and the United States, such as Exxon Mobile and BP, were hacked in 2009. Top secret topographical maps and other proprietary information was stolen costing them millions of dollars. The point is, if a company like Google or BP can fall victim to corporate espionage, what’s stopping your business from being a victim as well?

Let’s take a look at some more true stories of corporate espionage. In 2000, the chief executive of Oracle decided to hire a private investigator to look into organizations that supported Microsoft. However, the detective agency he hired made headlines when they were caught trying to buy trash from cleaning ladies working at a research group backed by Microsoft. To this day, the chief executive still has no regrets about his blatant and farcical corporate espionage attempt against his rival competitor. Procter & Gamble (P&G) was also caught dumpster diving for Unilever’s documents in 2001 even though it is doubtful the hair-care company would just toss its most important documents in the dumpster.

The next story demonstrates how most acts of corporate espionage are done by an angry employee, not an actual spy. Way back in 1997, an engineer working for Gillette faxed and emailed confidential documents to the company’s competitors. He was sentenced to 27 months in prison for the theft of trade secrets and at his trial explained his motivation for stealing the documents was anger at his supervisor. It may seem like a silly reason to steal a company’s information, but corporate espionage by an upset employee happens more often than you think.

Looking at all the accounts of corporate espionage, it is clear how wide spread and common this phenomenon is. Even if your business seems secure and above a hack, you can never be too careful. There are simple steps you can take to fight industrial espionage threats.

Ways to Defend Yourself against Corporate Espionage

Don’t let your business become a victim of identity theft, take the necessary precautions to stop an attack from ever happening. We have compiled a list of actions you can take to make your business more secure:

Shred It!

Placing physical documents around the office makes it incredibly easy for an employee or outsider to take your important files. Be proactive and shred your documents instead of leaving them around the office or tossing them in the trash. Mobile or off site shredding make it easy for your business to shred your confidential paper records.

Be Aware of What you Print

Be smart about the documents you choose to print. Before you decide to print a document, remember that is it much easier to steal a paper file than an electronic file. It is best if you only print documents with sensitive information when it is imperative to the business. It also saves your business money if you’re not mindlessly printing paper.

Physical Security of Documents

If you do choose to print sensitive documents, make sure you have a secure place to keep them. Store your documents in locked file cabinets. Keep the cabinets locked when the documents are not in use as this will prevent your employees or an outside party from accessing your records.

Electronic Storage

It is much simpler to take a paper document from a desk than hack into a company’s electronic document management system.  In general, keeping your documents in the cloud or on a hard drive is much more secure than keeping physical records in your office. It is wise to use an electronic storage system and invest in programs that can protect your system from being hacked.

Use Copy Proof Paper and Technology

For your most important documents, it might be worth looking into copy proof paper and other technology that ensures your documents cannot be photocopied. Even something as simple as putting a watermark on your documents can add another level of protection.

Restrict Access to Documents

All of your employees do not need access to every document in your company’s database. Try to compartmentalize documents so only people within a department can have access to specific records. Also, put restrictions on the flow of information by limiting who has access to sensitive documents. Issuing a policy on how documents are to be used outside of the office and on social media is another way to control the flow of information through the company.

Employee Policy and Training

Make sure your employee’s are frequently being trained on the company’s document management policy. The policy should detail how they are to handle documents and use the information within them. It is critical employees are aware of these procedures and are frequently updated on them. Your company should also have a clear exit policy in place so employees know they can and will be held accountable for any sensitive information they may have stolen during the exit procedure.

These are just a few of many steps you can take to protect your company from industrial espionage. Even implementing a few of the simple methods mentioned above can have an impact on the security of your business.

Corporate espionage has been around for over three centuries but nowadays, industrial spies are looking for more than just the secret to making porcelain. Competitors are looking to gain an advantage over other businesses by stealing their trade secrets. Don’t become a victim, take the precautions beforehand to ensure the safety of your sensitive information.

Shredding your important documents is a painless way to be prevent the theft of your data. At Shred Nations, we have a network of contractors that can come right to your business and do the shredding for you. We make the shredding process smooth and straightforward, give us a call at (800) 747-3365 or fill out the form to the right for a free quote.