By Santiago A. Cueto

Earlier this week I wrote about industrial espionage and how it is the fastest and least expensive way for our foreign competitors to bridge the innovation gap with the U.S.

Using cutting-edge technology and age-old techniques of deceit and manipulation, corporate spies are the greatest post-cold war threat to international business.

Today’s international conflicts are not limited to nation to nation disputes. Increasingly, they include corporation versus corporation. The recent trial between U.S.-based Apple and South Korean technology giant Samsung is just one example of the epic battle raging over the world’s most coveted trade secrets.

Industrial Espionage

At its essence, Industrial espionage is the process of illegally and unethically gaining confidential information from other companies – formulas, algorithms,  strategic plans, and other intellectual property to gain a competitive edge over a competitor. Having company secrets stolen by a competitor is costly and can be lethal to your global business.

That’s why it’s never been more important for American executives to educate themselves on the range of corporate espionage tactics used against them.

The Villains: Employees, Recruiters and Foreign Governments.

Employees are perhaps the most prevalent threat given their ability to access and steal documents, files, customer lists, and trade secrets.  Lured by financial gain, employees are highly motivated to steal information and sell their company’s proprietary secrets to the highest bidder.  Another group of villains to look out for are corporate recruiting agencies. Competitors will often use recruiters to hire away employees of a target company for the sole purpose of  collecting critical information.   Perhaps the biggest group of villains to look out for are foreign governments.  Foreign governments often engage their own intelligence services to acquire trade or research secrets for their own national purposes or industries.  Other villains to look out for are private investigative firms, hackers and thieves.

37 Espionage Tactics

American corporate executives must be increasingly guarded against Below is a comprehensive list of spy tactics that every American executive and in-house counsel should be familiar with. The list put together by the Dictionary of International Trade Handbook of the Global Trade Community, serves as an excellent overview of the things to look out for in you international business dealings.

As you’ll see, the list includes spying by current employees, former employees, computer hackers, and the full gamut of Cold War-style intelligence techniques.

Traditional Espionage

  1. Theft: Stealing information or products
  2. Blackmail: using threat or intimidation to extort information
  3. Mole planting: a double agent is embedded and gains