When Gordon Gekko, in his epic boardroom speech in Wallstreet (1987) spoke of greed as, I am not a destroyer of companies. I am a liberator of them! The point is, ladies and gentleman, that greed, for lack of a better word, is good. Greed is right, greed works. Greed clarifies, cuts through, and captures the essence of the evolutionary spirit, little did one realise how his words would ring so true, like a prophecy, in the today’s corporate scenario.
Greed or lack of a better word, has indeed given birth to mistrust and suspicions, that run deep within companies, who are in a bid to outrun and outdo their competitors, by any means. Corporate espionage has come of age, and companies invest heavily not just to protect themselves but to stay ahead in the race at any cost.
These are not the conventional Mi4-esque, continent hopping, passport swapping, suave Ethan Hunts that we are talking about, but your average Joe/Jane, the tech geek, who will use every means to squirm his/her way through the Information Act to get as much dirt on the company via the Internet. He/she will bribe, pose as a journo, hack into corporate networking systems, and will stalk every available resource on the web to gather and compile inside information.
Getting real time access to the technical know-how of a company’s product line, marketing plans, research and development, bid prices, quotes, in fact anything to give that competitive edge to rival contemporaries…comes at a cost. ‘Competitive Intelligence Solution’ is the mantra that cutting edge corporates live by, most often blurring the lines between ethical intelligence gathering and the unethical.
VICTIMS OF CORPORATE ESPIONAGE
One might think that larger the company, the more secure it is. But think again. Some of the biggest cases of corporate espionage have been executed by corporate stalwarts. It is literally a ‘Battle of Technology vs Bucks out there’, and companies are hiring ‘Corporate Intelligence Agents’ for acquiring trade secrets and inside information on rival industries. Unsurprisingly, the Silicon Valley is known to be the hottest activity area of corporate espionage.
Unilever vs Procter & Gamble, Opel vs VW, Microsoft vs Oracle are some of the most famous battles that have taken place in recent years. In a hilarious case of desperation, P&G actually went to the extent of stalking the garbage bins of Unilever in the hope of unearthing classified R&D documents.
Unfortunately for them they were literally caught in the dumpster and had to pay a compensation of $10 million to Unilever. In the Opel vs VW case, Opel accused VW of industrial espionage when seven of their executives switched loyalties to VW along with some vital documents. When GM sued VW, the latter had to pay $100 million as compensation. Some insist Karma rules in business world too…
STATE SPONSORED ESPIONAGE
The Chinese have been in the news for well orchestrated state-sponsored massive global industrial espionage in recent times. The Google vs Chinese-sponsored Operation Aurora, Ghost net, and Chengdu J-20 stealth fighter jet are some of the instances of alleged establishment-level involvement.
‘Operation Aurora’ sent shock waves around the world when it was speculated that the Chinese military could have been involved in the multi corporate hacking; stealing intellectual property and other vital information in order to gain economic advantage. And in the process Google rolled back its operations in China. The West routinely alleges China of being the single greatest perpetrator of technological cyber warfare.
There is no doubt that corporate espionage cannot happen successfully without inside help. Disillusioned employees, selling intellectual property/information hoping to further their career with rival competitors and business associates, or as a means of payback; are almost always involved. According to an Ernst and Young survey, 82% of the worst frauds are committed by an insider, with nearly a third in the management, acting alone to aid and abet a third party benefactor.
Others employ professionals to orchestrate a POA to plant an agent in the competitor’s premises to gather information, and bug the digital networking platform that provides the least resistant path to perpetuate cyber crimes. Corporate espionage has become a clear and present danger, and companies are investing heavily in hiring cyber guardsmen not only to spy on business partners and adversaries, but to keep a constant check on their own employees as well.
ROAD MAP AHEAD
Currently, it is believed that theft of trade secrets and intellectual property exceeds $100 billion annually. More than 56 per cent of the Fortune 1000 admit to having experienced acts of corporate espionage and yet it goes unreported for fear of being seen as vulnerable and alienating the shareholder confidence. Analytical reports state that cyberwarfare market will reach a value of $15.9bn in 2012.
The need of the hour is definitely to get in stringent international cyber laws in place and push for an immediate enactment to punish the guilty. Corporate espionage is a malignant epidemic an epidemic that is clandestinely eating its way into the core of positive business environment and economic growth.