007 Moves to the Private Sector: Corporate Espionage is at an All-Time High

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Studies are showing that corporate espionage is on the rise. A new book called "Corporate Intelligence Awareness: Securing the Competitive Edge" tells business leaders how to protect their strategic information and how to use legal and ethical means to uncover their competitors' secrets.

With the collapse of the Soviet Union the Cold War ended, but spies have never been short of work -- the business world uses their expertise on a daily basis. The FBI estimates that U.S. companies lose billions of dollars each year to foreign and domestic competitors who seek out their trade secrets. The incidence of information theft is on the rise, according to The American Society for Industrial Security in a study that identified the hot commodities as financial data, research and development work, merger and acquisition plans, unannounced product specifications, and prototypes. The emergence of prosperous new industrial communities around the world has made this trend a reality that cannot be ignored.

“Corporate espionage -- companies spying on other companies to find out competitor secrets -- is at an all-time high,” says Rodger Nevill Harding, a Toronto based business intelligence consultant. A former diplomat for the South African government and recipient of that country’s highest award for his intelligence-gathering and strategy work, he is a firm believer that “Organizations need to develop across-the-board policies to protect their core information assets. At the same time, those companies should develop intelligence-gathering strategies that will seek out competitor information -- these are the ‘rules of war’ for modern business.”

Harding’s new book “Corporate Intelligence Awareness: Securing the Competitive Edge” (Multi-Media Publications, $43.95) distills his years of intelligence and consulting experience into a handbook for corporate executives seeking to protect their resources and gain a strategic advantage over competitors. Using the people and technology resources already available to them makes this almost a cost-free exercise.

The FBI notes that companies seeking competitive intelligence generally use three different methods: They bribe people working inside the target organization to share research or other confidential documents, they hire employees who work in key positions in the target organization and then mine them for information about their former employer, and they establish what appears to be innocent business relationships with the target organization in order to get access to inside information. Harding believes that an enhanced people awareness approach to intelligence, coupled with the efficient use of technology, is a more ethical alternative.

An April 2006 report from MessageLabs, an Internet security company, noted that 61 percent of computers have some type of spyware or adware installed on them, and that well-known companies such as television, mobile phone and utility companies are using spyware to steal the secrets of rival companies. The prevalence of computer networks is making illegal intelligence gathering easier, with many attacks coming from overseas where the perpetrators cannot be reached by our law enforcement agencies.

In response to a rash of high-profile cases, the U.S. enacted its Economic Espionage Act that makes the theft of trade secrets a criminal offense. People convicted under these laws face up to 15 years in prison and fines of up to a half-million dollars.

In a world where the trend is to rely so heavily on technology, Harding emphasizes that corporate espionage is not restricted to the Internet and information technology. He adds that not all corporate espionage is illegal or unethical. “While rummaging through a competitor’s garbage bins may be illegal in most areas, you can still unearth a tremendous amount of information from fostering a conscious awareness in your team of what competitors say and do. Chatting with employees of an organization at a conference, for example, can unearth a host of clues that ultimately give rise to (or confirm) a theory about future events. You would be surprised at the things people tell you that they shouldn’t when you show interest in their field of expertise.”

In his new book, Harding describes step-by-step how an organization can develop an intelligence-gathering strategy that does not cross legal or ethical boundaries. He describes how to gather the required information, analyze and process data, and ensure that the resulting product is made available to decision makers as soon as possible. Importantly, he links efficient intelligence gathering to effective corporate strategy development, planning, and product or service evolution.


Rodger Nevill Harding, B.A., LLB is a former career diplomat for the South African government. While working there, he was awarded the Star of South Africa -- the nation’s then highest honour -- for his work in intelligence gathering and strategy development. He is the president of Harding International & Associates Inc. (http://www.HardingIntl.com) a Toronto-based management consulting firm teaching intelligence strategy development to corporate executives and government officials.


Founded in 1988, Multi-Media Publications Inc. is an independent publisher of business books, ebooks, and audiobooks. Its latest book, “Corporate Intelligence Awareness: Securing the Competitive Edge” (ISBN 1895186420, $43.95) is available from most online and traditional book retailers. Please visit http://www.mmpubs.com for more information.

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