Espionage in the corporate world includes gaining access to trade secrets and confidential information from ones competitor. That can run anywhere from something as prized as Georgia’s Coca-Cola soda formula to a list that outlines another competitor’s customer base. The FBI recently reported that when it comes to economic espionage there is one major economic threat to U.S. firms when it comes to espionage: China. That is not to say that American-based manufacturing companies do not have to be concerned about their own employees when it comes to the theft of confidential information; they do. But in recent analysis, the FBI has determined that billions of dollars of money is being stolen from the American economy due to theft of intellectual property of individuals and businesses perpetrated by the Chinese–but your employees could be helping them do it, albeit innocently in some cases.
The Economic Times reported on July 26 that the head of the FBI’s counterintelligence division said that there has been a 53 percent spike in such economic espionage cases in the past year alone, with the majority of the threats originating from China, but others happening closer to home. To prove their point, the Bureau has produced a short film that depicts one such case involving Chinese nationals based upon a true story. They call the Hollywood-worthy production “The Company Man: Protecting America’s Secrets”. The 36-minute movie is definitely worth a watch, as it will enlighten employees how this type of predator works, if nothing else.
Some states have laws that help protect employers in obtaining legal relief from discontented or greedy workers, who willingly choose to engage in economic espionage for their own profit–with or without Chinese intervention. For example, the state of Georgia has been concerned about the protection of business’ trade secrets and confidential information since they passed the Georgia Trade Secrets Act of 1990 (GTSA), which is almost identical to the Uniform Trade Secrets Act. But the GTSA is not a “one-size-fits-all” solution to obtaining equitable and legal relief in cases of confidential violations by employees or those a business contracts with for PR purposes, according to the Mercer Law Review.
So the best way employers can protect their companies from these types of corporate abuses by employees–and those they do business with, is to make sure to have contracts in place that outline what they expect (and what the penalties will be monetarily and legally) if an employee chooses to violate a confidentiality or restrictive covenant. And if an employer wants to make sure that the courts back up those confidentiality agreements, then they need to make sure they can prove that they had adequate and reasonable measures in place to prevent that proprietary information from being accessed by just anyone, rather than those who were specifically allowed access in order that they might be able to do their jobs.
The FBI would ask that companies and employees go one step further: Be aware that there are those outside the United States who might wish to take advantage of your employees and lax security systems in order to steal your businesses intellectual property, like the case example depicted in their recent film: The Company Man.
In that case, the FBI highlights how a glass manufacturer here became targeted by two Chinese nationals and the different tactics the Chinese men used to try and gain access to the data they desired, including overt activity, like waltzing into an employee area and trying to use a company computer to gain information without permission, as well as more covert actions, like pretending to be lost tourists in the business’ manufacturing facility–and hiring someone to try and entice a disgruntled employee into selling them the information for money for his daughter’s college fund needs.
If you know of (or suspect) any economic espionage at your place of business, the FBI wants to hear from you. They have a tips line (tips.FBI.gov) you can call, and they urge business owners not to fear getting them involved, as they will safeguard your trade secrets–and so will the courts, as this type of espionage is considered a matter of national security.