For any organisation, corporate identity theft and espionage are serious threats that must be considered. Considering these threats will help preserve your company secrets. The good news is that there are many ways to safeguard your business from corporate identity theft and espionage.
Make sure you know the risks
Before anything else, you need to identify what your organisation’s trade secrets are. Conduct a thorough internal audit across all departments to discover what your company’s trade secrets are and ensure no stone is left unturned. Ask all departments and all employees to carefully list all forms of information that need to be kept hidden from prying eyes. Consider every piece of information or bit of insider knowledge that your organisation and its employees possess. Do you want this information in the hands of your competitors? If not, write it down. Both digital and physical artefacts should be detailed. For example, an idea, a work in progress, a prototype or even final versions of products could be reverse-engineered if given to your competitors. Competitors could recreate your product using this information and beat you to the market.
When all employees are confident that all potential trade secrets have been identified, it’s time to consider your areas of risk. The most obvious risk is competitors, but you must also consider if there is anyone else who works at or visits your organisation that could misuse this information. Customers, site visitors, suppliers, or even your employees could be a potential threat to your confidential business information.
Something to consider is what motivations there could be that would drive any of these people to leak your company secrets. One motivation could be a financial reward from selling your information to competitors. They may even just give the data away for free based on another motive – revenge. If anyone connected to your business is hurt by your company’s actions, they may want to see your organisation crumble. This could pose a serious threat.
If unprotected, competitors can use your secrets to leverage their market position and this could result in your business losing customers and revenue. Hackers too could use your secrets maliciously, and with that extort you or threaten to publish your information. If data contains personal customer information, that is a headache you do not want. A data breach of this nature could result in substantial fines and irreparably damage your organisation’s reputation.
Keep your premises secure
An important way of safeguarding your trade secrets is with premise security. Many techniques you likely already use to protect your business from burglaries are also effective to minimise the risk of corporate identity theft and espionage. Tools such as heavy-duty locks, secure key-card or code entry systems, CCTV, alarm systems, secure perimeters, and sign-in machines can all be used to safeguard your premises from unauthorised access. If unauthorised personnel do manage to gain entry into your building, capturing them on CCTV will improve the chances of them being identified later on. If you have areas where extremely sensitive or valuable items or information is kept, it may also be worth considering additional protection. You could hire security guards to patrol the premises or watch your premises on a live feed. Motion detection systems could also be an option, and many modern CCTV systems have motion detection features available. The use of safes could be another good option.
Invest in data security
Unfortunately for business owners, it’s extremely easy to slip confidential information out of company doors. All it takes is a couple of photographs captured on a visitor’s phone or a few pieces of paper. For this reason, it’s important to stay vigilant. Your staff members are your first line of defence, so make sure employees know how to report any suspicious behaviour. Remember, not all staff members may feel comfortable approaching managers about suspicious behaviour, especially if that behaviour concerns another colleague. Offering employees an anonymous way to report suspicions could, therefore, be vital. Communicate these options to all staff members and make sure they feel empowered to make these reports. Whether they are a C-Suite employee or a part-time worker at entry-level, all reports must be treated as equal and all employees given the same respect. After all, you need to rely on them to protect your organisation.
Digital data security measures should be in place, both on your own systems and any software systems your business uses. You can enhance digital data security by implementing access controls, anti-virus and anti-malware software, firewalls, logging, encryption and strict password policies. Any portable devices such as company laptops should also be protected. Keep a list of each device and who has possession of it, and ensure this list is always up to date. If you do ever need to recover a device, this will make the process much easier.
Remember, digital data can become physical data at the click of a mouse. Once printed, data becomes difficult to detect and easy to transport. Teach your employees the risks of printing out data and try to encourage a clean desk policy. This will reduce the risk of employees putting confidential information into an unsecure bin. Once physical data is no longer needed, it should be shredded.
Train your teams and employ exit procedures
Training will give your teams the confidence to effectively practise data security. Refresher training should also be given to ensure everyone knows their responsibilities.
For your employees with access to personal information about customers or staff members, or those involved with things like product innovations, it may be worth providing additional training. Depending on your organisation, background checks may also be necessary.
Exit procedures must also be considered. If your workers use their personal phones to log into business emails or software, there needs to be a contract in place between you and your employee to confirm the removal of those access points. If there is a particular risk of data exports, even if you trust your employees, garden leave may also be the best option to keep your commercial secrets safe.
Many employers put clauses into their employment contracts preventing workers from going to a competitor organisation or starting their own competitor business within a certain timeframe of leaving a company. This is relatively commonplace in industries where trade secrets are essential for financial success.
Dispose of old records, data, prototypes and artefacts securely
One easy way you can protect your business from espionage and corporate identity theft is by shredding any confidential records or artefacts when no longer needed.
Kristian Carter, Commercial Director at one of the UK’s leading shredding companies, Shred Station, says:
“All businesses have a responsibility to make sure their materials are kept safe from the risk of theft and espionage. Unfortunately, it isn’t always easy to identify data thieves so the accountability has to be with businesses, and all staff members need to be aware of their responsibilities. We would recommend a Shred Everything policy for all materials businesses no longer need. It just takes away the risk of employees making the wrong call when it comes to what data to destroy”.
By Emily Bridges – Marketing Manager at Shred Station