Corporate espionage

A former intelligence agency officer of the government was hired by a corporate client as a consultant. The purpose was simple: to spy on the main competitor of the company. And the credentials of the consultant were so strong that the competitor company did not care to verify the details and hired the services of the planted man. This arrangement continued for two years and the result of this was that all the inside information from the competitor’s office kept on reaching the other end. This may sound like a work of fiction to many, but you have just entered the world of corporate espionage.

In times like today, it’s all about beating one’s competitor and reaching the peak of success. And most businesses and professionals follow this mantra to the core. And to be the best every business house is engaged in corporate warfare, which could be on the surface or work as an undercurrent. Believe it or not, this is where the concept of corporate espionage comes into action.

Experts say that corporate espionage is a growing phenomena amongst corporates, especially in times like these when most economies are in a meltdown. 320 out of the Fortune 500 companies engage in this. High tech surveillance, scientific gadgets, moles, dummies and plants are widely used. The corporate world in India has also taken to spies, bugs and moles with a vengeance. It helps them reach for the competitor’s jugular and, in money and market wars, little else counts.

The four faces of the business espionage include pretext attacks, computer abuse, technical surveillance and undercover operations, Espionage is sometimes called dark sister of competitive intelligence and most organizations feel that it is an unethical practice. Indian organizations have understood the wide ranging implications of corporate espionage and have also started taking counter espionage measures as an open policy matter. However, the actual use of espionage by corporates in India is still kept under wraps and is considered covert in nature

Corporate espionage is an offence, which India Inc, is increasingly becoming prone to. Several recent high profile cases have brought to surface this distributing trend in the Indian corporate world. The concept has been in practice for a long time and is being used to gain competitive advantage’ over rival organizations. It is distinct from legal an ethical activities, such as examining corporate publications, websites, patent filings, etc to determine the activities of a corporation.

In view of the fact that espionage activities are definitely being adopted, it has become absolutely essential for every organization to keep a close tab on its employees and particularly on the key figures in the management. One of the methodologies adopted by spies is to infiltrate the targeted company by planting a mole to extract information. These moles or employees act as double edged swords, as they are on the pay rolls of the regular company as well as on the rolls of the competitor company, in a camouflaged manner through agency, which is undertaking its operation. Pre and post-employment screening either through internal vigilance or through specialized agencies has become the essential requirement.

The most obvious loophole in any organization, which results in loss of confidential data, is through employees. Companies other protection, measures forget that their employees are talking to head hunters and prospective new employers all the time. The best way to avoid this is to ensure that the employees appreciate the need to understand and follow the corporate security policies.

Organizations must develop a defense mechanism of its own to prevent losses on the account of espionage. Internal vigilance is the foremost. In the time of global meltdown and job insecurity, employees are more vulnerable and become soft targets for corporate espionage by competitors who want to bypass internal controls. In the private sector, an eye has to be kept on overt and convert acts of an employee to judge whether these are detrimental to the best business interests of the company.