Industrial Espionage and Computer Forensics

By: James Walsh


They intensely scrutinise their websites, corporate publications, patent filings and the like to decipher opponent activity.

Over the years, with the intensifying of competition and enlargement of profitability in business ventures, corporate officials began resorting to innovative methods for obtaining information of their rivals. Unfortunately, in the feverish pitch of intense surveillance they failed to remain within legal confines. They gradually began transcending legal lines, and obtainment of information by unethical means soon became a widespread practice. Such illegitimate obtainment of information pertaining to business adversaries is called 'industrial espionage.'

Industrial Espionage

Industrial espionage refers to all the undercover activities that are performed by entrepreneurs for acquiring information of their business rivals for commercial gain. As such spying exercises are practised by some leaders in the corporate world, the term 'industrial espionage' has turned synonymous with 'corporate espionage.' Targeted victims of espionage activities range from rival business organisations to governmental agencies. Invariably, these deceived business units suffer huge monetary losses. Yet, they fail to report such criminal activity for fear of losing customer confidence or shareholder interest.

Moreover, the real perpetuators are the executives of large companies, and they are rarely prosecuted. It is the small-time offender who gets sentenced. Invariably, the transgressor gets apprehended in the very act - that of stealing the much sought-after business information.

The Much Sought After Business Information

Business competitors on the prowl, seek information of all kinds. Every bit of information that is accessed is valuable and used appropriately. Strategy papers, engineering designs, and details of new products help entrepreneurs supplement the information they have already gathered through reverse engineering. (Reverse engineering is the process of purchasing rival products and dismantling them to learn the secrets of the implemented technical know-how.) Client data base, supplier agreements, information pertaining to tender bids, future plans of mergers, etc help them bid competitively for tenders and gain a winning edge in competition.

Information collection methods vary. Agents might be recruited to work in the rival company and pass on the accessed information. Bribery of the employees of rival organisation is also adopted. However, these traditional methods rely on engaging people to do the illicit work. The advent of computers has digitalised industrial espionage methods and has given a modern twist to white collared crime.

Stealing Information in the Digital Age

The most blatant of methods of industrial espionage are stealing laptops or breaking into the offices of the opponent and walking away with their desktops. A few cases of espionage activity came to light when bribed employees in the 'research and development' wing of a well-known organisation were caught burning sensitive information on to the CDs. Usually, the avaricious employees in any organisation prove to be the weakest link of the security chain. Such unethical employees are identified and approached by contacting them online.

Other unobtrusive digital methods pertain to installing key logger software programs that are used to record the keystrokes of the pc user. With this it is easy to gain access to user activity that would also include obtaining passwords, emails, etc. Detecting such spyware activity is becoming difficult as attackers have invented ways to avoid detection. Even if spyware activity is detected, pinning key logger activity as an industrial espionage act is difficult. Only digital forensics can help in such a scenario.

Role of Digital Forensics in Tracking down Culprits

Bribed employees of an organisation (who transmit vital business information online) are often tricked into complacency. They press the delete key of their pc and rest assured that they are leaving no physical proof of their criminal activity. However, nothing can be farther from the truth. The peculiarity of digital proof is that it does not visibly exist. User activity gets embedded in the computer hard disk and such digital proof is almost impossible to obliterate. Computer forensic experts use specialised tools and equipments and unearth such evidence and track down criminals.

Corporate espionage is wrong and all measures must be taken to put an end to it. Effects of industrial espionage are dangerous in their ramifications. They not only lead businesses to bankruptcy but also affect the ties with friendly nations. When acts of industrial espionage, which surpass national boundaries, get revealed, it makes allied nations momentarily vacillate and doubt the validity of good relationships.

Computers
 • 
 • 
 • 
 • 
 • 
 • 
 • 
 • 
 • 
 • 
 • 
 • 
 • 
 • 
 • 
 • 
 • 
 • 
 • 
 • 

» More on Computers