The term “industrial espionage” may sound like something out of a John Grisham novel. However, it simply refers to the theft of a company’s intellectual property like trade secrets to gain a competitive advantage. It’s also sometimes referred to as economic espionage or corporate spying.
Decades ago, industrial espionage was often carried out by someone infiltrating a company as an employee to gain access to its proprietary information. Sometimes a company might bribe or blackmail someone in a company to give up secrets. In some instances, people might actually break into a facility to copy or steal documents.
How the internet changed industrial espionage
Those things can still occur. However, the rise of the internet has made it possible for those who are intent on industrial espionage to hack into systems and/or install spyware to gain what they want. They can obtain a wealth of information without getting anywhere near the company – sometimes not even in the same country.
Some companies have lax cybersecurity measures that make an infiltration of their systems easy for those who know what they’re doing. They may not even know what happened until it’s too late.
Where does it most often occur and why?
Industrial espionage can occur in any industry. However, it’s most common in those where research and development (R&D) is a key component of their work. These can include:
- Auto manufacturing
The valuable information often involves manufacturing processes, techniques, chemical formulas, and ideas. If a company is willing to steal them, they can save time and money – until they’re caught.
The penalties for industrial espionage can run into many millions of dollars for a company. However, those who participated in espionage can find themselves facing criminal penalties, including prison time. If you’re being investigated or have already been arrested, it’s important to have legal guidance to protect your rights.