Cyber Corporate Espionage

What is Cyber Espionage? According to this comprehensive definition from Wikipedia, “cyber spying” or “cyber espionage” is:

“The act or practice of obtaining secrets without the permission of the holder of the information (personal, sensitive, proprietary, or of classified nature) from individuals, competitors, rivals, groups, governments, and enemies for personal, economic, military, or political advantage using methods on the Internet, networks, or individual computers through the use of cracking techniques and malicious software including Trojan horses and spyware.”

With the likelihood of U.S. economic sanctions against China in response to repeated acts of civil cyber espionage, many U.S. companies are asking if they might also be targeted. The possibility of such attacks is definitely increasing, as cyber espionage is not strictly limited to the political sphere; financially motivated hacker groups appear to be on the rise. These groups’ efforts are focused on acquiring business secrets that can be sold to third parties, or used for insider trading. Closer to home, similar attacks from former employees or business competitors are a real concern.

What kinds of information might be targeted in a cyber attack?

Generally, the answer is anything that could give your competitors an advantage. For business owners, this could mean having your competitors gain access to information about your product features, pricing, customer or vendor contracts, M&A plans, employee information, and more. Customer contact information is also of interest to attackers, who might use it to engage in phishing attacks.

What steps can you take to protect your company?

There are several steps you can take to mitigate the risk of cyber espionage:

●    Use up-to-date malware and virus removal software. If you aren’t already doing this, now is the time to start. Your network is most likely to be infected when employees visit websites that contain viruses and other malware. While you can employ web usage controls to limit the sites your employees access and to monitor the ones they do, you can still be infected when employees use their own devices, such as laptops, flash drives, and so on. Keeping your virus removal software up-to-date can greatly decrease this problem.
●    Have a process in place for properly suspending or terminating the accounts of problem employees or employees who are no longer with your company. It’s easy to overlook the importance of promptly removing access, but the most sure way to protect against misuse of access is to remove it.
●    Enforce the use of “strong” passwords. This means both educating your employees concerning the risks of using common passwords, and requiring them to use complex, unique passwords instead.
●    If you have data on a public cloud, consider whether it is sensitive or not. If it is, it may be in your best interests to move it to a private cloud where you have more control over security.
●    Train your employees on all aspects of cyber security. We discussed the need for strong passwords above; additionally, educate your employees on other security issues. For example, offer guidelines for how to identify suspicious emails, and how to report them when received.