It was at Donald Trump’s first press conference as President-elect when the term ‘fake news’ broke out of media discussions and into the mainstream. What’s real and very evident across all organisations is the threat of corporate espionage, writes Emma Shaw.
Every week we read about another insider attack, demonstrating just how frequently these espionage incidents are occurring. These are just the ones we hear about. Most go unreported due to the likelihood of reputational damage. Despite that ongoing threat, many companies still fail to comprehend the enormity of the problem, with decisions on how to respond to attacks often being made retrospectively.
While it can be difficult to quantify the impact espionage can cause, what’s clear is that, when an organisation loses confidential information, an occurrence which can also be the end result of employee error and neglect, there may be serious implications often affecting share value and undermining confidence.
The forces that drive espionage are changing with information becoming the currency of today’s economy. Inside intelligence on a company merger is highly valuable knowledge to a competitor. Often, companies think they have nothing worth stealing and may not be aware what’s of interest to other organisations until it’s too late. Any sort of competitive edge is much sought after in today’s marketplace.
The simple truth is that all companies have confidential information which should stay that way, but transient staff, remote working, foreign travel and social engineering all have the potential to bring with them a host of problems.
Vulnerability to espionage
All of these factors mean that companies have arguably never been more vulnerable from espionage. The threat is broad and so too must be the solution in order to address the risk effectively. It’s only with the commitment at Board level that a culture of awareness and protection can be disseminated through an organisation.
The introduction of personal liability for directors in connection with corporate governance issues and compliance means that espionage should take an essential place on the Board’s agenda.
An inter-departmental approach to counter-espionage should also be considered. Every employee of a company has a role to play in mitigating the impact of espionage, including those working in IT, sales and HR. An understanding of the risks and potential implications of leaked information helps in forming a united approach to the safeguarding of confidential material.
The route to a more secure working environment begins with a risk assessment. This will enable organisations to gain greater awareness of the challenges that face their business, whether in terms of the threat from competitors, insiders or emerging technologies. A business can then determine the relative importance of each of these risks.
A security strategy that reduces the impact of these threats and improves business confidence, leaving organisations to concentrate on core objectives, is then required. Businesses need to employ a level of countermeasures appropriate to the risks and potential losses they face.
Current strategies, policies, procedures and practices need to be reviewed from a counterespionage viewpoint, while physical and technical security must he considered and assessed thoroughly.
Facilitating the new strategy
An operational plan can then outline Best Practice to facilitate the new security strategy. Best Practice will include adhering to physical security measures such as access restrictions, clear desk policies and staff screening.
Sweeping offices for listening devices is often carried out once or twice a year, although this is sometimes increased at a time of heightened periods of risk. Technological advances mean that sensors can now be installed into rooms providing 24-hour protection of an organisation’s most important conversations.
Finally, regular awareness briefings to include senior managers and Board members, and particularly those who travel on business, will help educate, train and protect against espionage activity.
A company demonstrating that it has considered every eventuality, and has the processes and strategies in place to guard against an attack, will surely benefit from new business and improved customer retention.
Emma Shaw MBA CSyP FSyl FCMI is Managing Director of Esoteric