Make no mistake, industrial espionage is on the rise. That and an increase in employee theft have given more than one executive premature gray hairs. Large multi-national corporations and smaller business entities are all vulnerable. All you need is something the other guy wants. It can be everything from advanced, first in your space technology to intellectual property. It can be sensitive databases, customer rosters, proprietary data.
Call it a sign of the times or the outgrowth of a bad economy. According to an article in Financial Times, corporate espionage can cost a company hundred of millions of dollars. It can cost a business its dominance in the market. Your staff, your research and development team can work so hard, spending millions and years on breakthrough technology, and all it takes for some thief or team of thieves to ruin your best efforts. Motorola has been hit with costly corporate espionage and Renault suffered grievously when several employees allegedly pass information about the Renault electric car to different contractors.
The article in Financial Times attests that corporations are taking corporate espionage much more seriously. As technology is the key to advancing in a competitive economy and gaining market share in global environment, those who develop that technology can fall prey to those who would rather steal that technology than develop their own. The objective is to gain knowledge of what rivals are developing and, if possible, steal that technology. In-house staff, of course is always the most vulnerable to bribery in exchange for stealing proprietary data.
In some cases background checks may vet out potential corporate spies and thieves. There are various tests that can demonstrate an employment applicant who is in poor character. We have had more than one client wish he had administered more comprehensive background checks, including character assessment checks. In one case, especially, key intellectual property was pilfered.
But then there are the variations in how corporate espionage is countenanced from country to country. In China, for example, where many of the industries are state owned or state sponsored, as the article attests, there is often little penalty for committing industrial espionage against a foreign corporation and bringing the technological spoils back to the Mainland. For years it has been Chinese practice to gain the advantage through industrial espionage. Back when China had scant funding for research and development, industrial spies were rewarded for their efforts.
The Financial Times article discusses "the grains of sand" or the "mosaic" principle developed almost exclusively by the Chinese for their espionage purposes. Instead of one spy trying to capture the entire technology, China has long sent out multitudes to acquire small bits of the technology. Each bit is patiently assembled to form the large picture. Hence, each piece of the puzzle is a tiny grain of sand. The assembled puzzle is the mosaic.
I am familiar with Chinese Espionage practices and industrial espionage practices in general. My book, a roman a clef, The Guys Who Spied for China, was published in late 2009, and was a a Quarterfinalist in the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Awards. A roman a clef is a fictional version based on true experiences.
Anyway, as competition increases in the world, industrial espionage will be on the increase. It will be incumbent for employers and staffing groups to conduct a variety of background checks of their employment screening purposes. Such background checks may include the proactive assessment tests that can indicate who may be of suspicious or poor character.
Companies who wish to stay competitive must remain sentient and crackdown on those who wish to steal their intellectual property. Once such security was an elective. Now it is mandatory.