Does electronic spying on corporations really happen?
July 5, 2010 11:32 AM   Subscribe

Wired had an article recently about a company whose job it was to sweep Fortune 500 corporate offices and boardrooms looking for electronic surveillance devices. Is this a real problem? Has there ever been a documented case of a large company being bugged by their competitors? My gut is telling me this is a lot of hype.
posted by TorontoSandy to Technology (13 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
 
Corporate espionage is actually a pretty big problem. It's not hype at all. Mergers and acquisitions discussions, high stakes litigation, and other material corporate secrets are attractive pieces of information for the nefarious.
posted by dfriedman at 11:42 AM on July 5, 2010


Examples here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Industrial_espionage#Economic_and_Industrial_Espionage_Cases
posted by dfriedman at 11:45 AM on July 5, 2010


Bugging does happen but more often it's the case where an employee with access to privileged information is on two payrolls - doing their day to day job and then passing notes about what they see and work on to the competition. There are many cases of this happening and it's why most large companies require signing an NDA and noncompete upon hiring, so that they have legal recourse when information gets leaked.
posted by msbutah at 11:51 AM on July 5, 2010


Yes, this happens. Electronic listening devices are unusual, but not unheard-of. Rogue employees (who are actually on multiple payrolls) leaking information are commonplace.

Broker, Trader, Lawyer, Spy is a reasonably well-researched book on the subject.
posted by toxic at 11:54 AM on July 5, 2010 [1 favorite]


Not just companies. There's plenty of history of France and the United States government spies engaging in corporate espionage for the benefit of "their own" corporate interests.

Compete with Boeing, you're going up against the CIA.
posted by rodgerd at 11:54 AM on July 5, 2010


Rogue employees (who are actually on multiple payrolls) leaking information are commonplace.


I've been involved in an investigation that may have caught someone doing this. I was working in the IT department at a software company at the time, and some of our in-development ideas started showing up on our competitors' product roadmaps. Our corporate general counsel and CIO had me start quietly making duplicate copies of the email of a few people who had access to the information that was leaked. A few weeks later, a termination notice showed up for one of them, and that was the the last I heard about it.
posted by deadmessenger at 12:17 PM on July 5, 2010 [1 favorite]


Forensic Case Files and Security Monkey have some stories about this. The Security Monkey's cases are partially fictional, but they are based on real cases.
posted by clearlydemon at 12:37 PM on July 5, 2010 [1 favorite]


Here's a few more books on the subject: Corporate Espionage: What It Is, Why It's Happening in Your Company, What You Must Do About It (written by a former employer of mine), Spooked: Espionage in Corporate America & CIA, Inc: Espionage & the Craft of Business Intelligence. Long story short? Your gut needs tuning, this stuff goes on all the time.
posted by scalefree at 1:06 PM on July 5, 2010 [1 favorite]


Wired had an article recently ...

Is this the article?

Yes -- corporate/industrial espionage (e.g. bugging board rooms, tapping into e-mail and landline/mobile phone systems of competitors, etc.) is very real and has been around for decades.

As per the threat, here in the U.S. we have the Economic Espionage Act of 1996.

The Department of Justice website provides many examples of those indicted under the Economic Espionage Act.

Elsewhere:
BBC News: Industrial Espionage 'Real and Out There'.

BBC News: Bugging the Boardroom.
posted by ericb at 2:14 PM on July 5, 2010


Compete with Boeing, you're going up against the CIA.

No, you're not. Go up against EADS and you're going up against French intelligence. Go up against a Russian company, and you're going up against the FSB. Go up against Boeing, and you're going up against... Boeing. A lot of American companies complain about being at a disadvantage for that exact reason.

It's also worth noting that "CIA, Inc: Espionage & the Craft of Business Intelligence" is by a former CIA officer who talks about how what he knows how to do could be used against companies. It's not a claim that the CIA (or any US intelligence agency) conducts industrial espionage on behalf of American companies.
posted by NotMyselfRightNow at 3:57 PM on July 5, 2010 [1 favorite]


Yes ericb, that's the article. It seemed off to me that there was no mention that they've actually found bugging devices in offices.
posted by TorontoSandy at 6:34 PM on July 5, 2010


No, you're not.

I guess that explains why CIA staff have been expelled from friendly nations for economic espionage, then.
posted by rodgerd at 2:31 AM on July 6, 2010


I guess that explains why CIA staff have been expelled from friendly nations for economic espionage, then.

I didn't say the US intelligence agencies didn't spy on foreign firms. I said they don't give that intelligence to US companies, or spy on their behalf. There are a lot of reasons why an intelligence agency would want to know what a foreign company is up to, especially if that company is supplying a foreign government or military (or is a front for the government).
posted by NotMyselfRightNow at 7:40 AM on July 6, 2010


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