Part 1: What Is Corporate Espionage?
This article is Part 1 of a 3-part series. The purpose of the series is to familiarize the reader with the most common indicators of corporate espionage and advice on how to combat it. This advice is a compilation of our experience at International Investigators, Inc. while investigating these types of cases.
Corporate espionage, also known as industrial espionage or business espionage, usually involves one company spying on another for economic gain. It is not the same as economic espionage, which involves nation-states spying on each other’s companies. For more information on economic espionage, read FBI Launches Nationwide Awareness Campaign at the FBI’s website here.
In corporate espionage, Company A gains an economic advantage over Company B by collecting private information that can be used for Company A’s benefit or Company B’s detriment. This information can range from the obviously damaging, such as the theft of trade secrets, to the seemingly innocuous, such as employee morale.
Gathering information on a company from publicly available information, also known as competitive intelligence, is not illegal and does not constitute corporate espionage; although some may argue that point depending on how the information was gathered. Click here for an American Express article regarding some competitive intelligence tactics.
In our experience, corporate spies are usually employees who accepted money in return for information, either out of revenge or financial difficulties. In one case, we found a spy who was planted by a competitor for the sole purpose of long-term espionage. Another case we worked involved a third-party who was paid to comb through trash to learn anything he could, which included trying to put shredded documents back together.
Now that we’ve covered the differences between corporate espionage, economic espionage and competitive intelligence, let’s segue from what constitutes corporate espionage to spotting the red flags that you’re a victim and how to stop corporate espionage before it gets started.
-C. Tim Wilcox, CEO, International Investigators