Competitive Intelligence vs Espionage REI

Feb 28, 2013

Most people have a general understanding of what espionage is but may have trouble distinguishing the difference between corporate espionage and competitive intelligence (CI). Furthermore, are they legal, ethical, and acceptable practices?  A broad definition of competitive intelligence is the action of defining, gathering, analyzing, and distributing intelligence about products, customers, competitors and any aspect of the environment needed to support executives and managers in making strategic decisions for an organization. CI focuses more on the external business environment versus the internal strategies, objectives or methods. CI in the proper sense is an ethical and legal business practice allowing companies to optimize available information to operate from an offensive position in the marketplace. The difference between espionage and legal information gathering is usually clear cut, but the proximity of the two makes the line of separation easy to cross. Industrial or corporate espionage is espionage conducted for commercial purposes instead of national security purposes and involves illegal activities such as theft of trade secrets, bribery, blackmail, and technical surveillance. Corporate espionage is not limited to commercial business alone. Governments have been known to spy on commercial organizations, and can also be targets of commercial espionage. For example, someone might attempt to acquire a competitors bid response to a tender for a government contract in order to underbid the competitor. Corporate espionage seems to more commonly be reported in technology-heavy industries, particularly the computer and automobile sectors. The U.S. government claims for example, that espionage in the auto industry is seeing a significant increase of reported cases. Recently, a former Ford employee was sentenced to a federal penitentiary for stealing thousands of secrets in order to obtain a job. In addition to jail time he was fined $12,500. The theft according to the manufacturer is estimated to be between $50 and $100 million in labor costs. The automotive industry however, is not the only target. Aerospace, defense technologies, financial institutions, legal services, pharmaceutical, software and almost any manufacturing, are vulnerable. It is very difficult to quantify just how fast and broad the scope of industrial espionage is. We know that the advancement and proliferation of communication devices, embedded cameras, microphones and a multitude of surveillance tools is making eavesdropping and illicit surveillance easier and cheaper than ever.  This is why the commitment of resources is increasing in order to protect against corporate espionage. The scale of risk exposure is drawing much more concern than ever before, as seen in the case of the former Ford employee. In the Beyond Physical Security (BPS) seminars REI presents throughout the U.S., corporate security professionals are learning what techniques thieves are using to steal valuable information from companies. The seminar begins with examining the different threat levels and what evaluations are necessary for identifying potential threats. Throughout the process of conducting a technical investigation, the program drills down to specific technological evaluations including acoustic and electromagnetic surveillance.  If by the end of the seminar, attendees have transitioned from being satisfied with a defensive posture to wanting and needing to have an offensive strategy, we've done a good job.

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