Views from the Hills by R. E. Stevens, GENESIS II (The Second Beginning) E-Mail

Corporate Security, Espionage & Intelligence

A few years ago, I shared my experiences with some MBA students on Competitive Intelligence.  In the talk I pictured Competitive Intelligence as a three-legged stool.  The three legs were Security, Espionage & Intelligence.  There is a thin line between Corporate Espionage and Competitive Intelligence.  Just as there is a fine line between legal and illegal boundaries, there are ethical boundaries and they will vary by company.  We must be aware of these boundaries and how they might affect Corporate Security.  For instance, is it OK to:

    accidental encounters
    intentional encounters
These are fairly simple Corporate Security problems to solve.  It is a matter of being aware of the value of the papers you handle on a day-to-day basis.  However, events can take on dramatic degrees of involvement.  Consider some of the following events.

In one company I know, they were missing formulation cards for their brands (very important confidential information).  That company also caught two private investigators (hired by competition) in their research facilities.  As a result of these two events, they established expensive and tight security procedures.

Now consider the company that in order to cut costs, hired an outside organization to handle night clean-up of their offices.  It wasn't long before cameras, computers, as well as money were missing.  Corporate Security decided to place a motion detector camera in one of the main offices.  The first night, stuff was missing.  The camera got the pictures, but they placed the camera on the floor under a table.  The result was pictures of the thief's feet (smart?).  A couple of days later they placed a hidden camera in a box on top of a tall cabinet.  Again, stuff missing.  They took down the camera but when they opened it up, the thief had taken the film (smart thief).  The company ultimately terminated their contract with the clean-up company.

In debriefing the experience, the company took the position that what was taken was only money (the equipment was termed money also).  What they failed to realize is that information could have easily been taken at the same time.  Corporate Security maintained that with their locked desk policy, there could not have been any theft of information.  It was brought to their attention that the desks in their offices all contained locks with little numbers printed on the outside of the lock.  And with these numbers you could go to any locksmith and they could make you two keys for $1.50.  It was also pointed out that the side drawers of the desks had utilized a candelabra locking device triggered by the center drawer and that if you reached behind the center drawer with one finger, you could slide the locking pin off the horizontal bar thereby unlocking the side drawers without ever opening the center drawer.  After gaining access to the information, the thief would replace the pin on the bar and close the side drawers thereby re-locking them and no one would ever know they were ever opened.

Why am I mentioning this today?  Well, back in the 1990s when I wrote the talk, I said that the biggest security breach was "subcontracting."  Well, today we are in a new era, that era is "outsourcing."  The Pros are good but the Pros are not usually in the Corporate Security Office.  It is hard to train your own employees to be on the alert and practice good security.  Do we train our contractors with the same degree of skill and do they share the same degree of concern?  Look at some of the things that are being outsourced such as IT Departments and Manufacturing.  What are the Risks?  What are the Rewards?  Are we making it easy for competition?

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