Thu, October 28th, 2010 - 6:36 am - By Gordon Basichis
Corporate espionage has been a growing concern for various industries. Especially with this economic downturn, when businesses are doing all they can do to survive, the last thing they need is theft of their proprietary data. Corporate espionage can come from within and without. There are foreign concerns that are looking to save the cost of research and development by stealing someone else’s proprietary data. But don’t think the interlopers only originate from China and other foreign countries. There are domestic companies who are also looking to get the edge on their competition by stealing their sensitive information.
Some who practice corporate espionage will do through by utilizing technology. They will attempt to hack into the targeted companies system and retrieve the information from there. Others will resort to the more traditional form, the old fashioned way. They will pay someone to steal it for them. More often than not, that someone is a current employee. In a recent article in the Wall Street Journal, a former employee at Akamai Technologies, Inc. was arrested and charged with the illegal passing of information to a foreign agent. According to the article, the suspect may have been passing confidential data for more than eighteen months. The accused now faces some twenty years in jail.
But if he is guilty, then the damage has been done. Recently it came to light that certain companies have had sensitive data pilfered that can cost them their first in field standings in the industries where they are involved. It is often mundane stuff, a certain chemical used to enhance the product, a certain process they use for better results than competitors. At first blush the stolen material may seem innocuous and incidental. But six months later when competitors are using the same chemicals, the same process, then the consequences are fully realized.
When staffing, I would love to say there are background checks an employer can utilize in its employment screening program to prevent against corporate theft and corporate espionage. There are, but with this type of thing there are no guarantees. We discovered recently that it often pays to run a full background check, including employment verifications, on your job applicant. If he worked jobs at related industries and didn’t stay long, this may be a red flag. Seeing signs that an employee, other than a contractor got the job, worked awhile, and then left in what is an unreasonable time frame should arouse suspicions. Likewise, when you run the employment candidate’s social security trace and see he has worked in cities where your competitors are heavyhearted, you, the employer, may wish to look further into the applicant’s job history.
If there is a open space where the applicant was unemployed but was residing in the city where you competition is located, you may ask for further explanation as to what that candidate was really doing at the time. Additionally, it pays to check country criminal records, the most accurate of criminal records, and county civil records, to ascertain if your candidate was charged with any crimes or sued for misappropriation of information.
Check his Motor Vehicle Driving Record for any signs of substance abuse. As part of your employment screening, you may want to check his credit report for signs of current or imminent financial difficulty. I realize conducting employment credit reports can be an unpopular subject right now, replete with accusations of bias,and that corporate theft is not nearly the same hot button issue, but it may be necessary to consider any legal option available.
Writing about corporate espionage may seem a bit overwrought. Some may find it a little too dramatic. But ask the directors at Akamai Technologies how they may feel about it, or those at the two companies where some of their most sensitive data may have been stolen either by interlopers or past employees. Ask them if they are taking it lightly and are now performing the due diligence available as part of their employment screening effort. I am sure they can offer a very different perspective.