The FBI on Economic Espionage [Podcast]


By Adam Turteltaub

Economic espionage sounds more like the stuff of a spy thriller than a day-to-day concern for business. Not so, as it turns out. To learn more we sat down with the FBI’s Counterintelligence Division Unit Chief Matthew Charles and Cyber Division Supervisory Special Agent Michelle Liu.

Economic espionage generally refers to stealing trade secrets for the benefit of an overseas competitor, often one aligned with a foreign government. An employee at your organization working on a sensitive project may be leveraged, frequently with the lure of cash and other payments.

Typical targets include technology with potential military use and, of late, pharmaceuticals.

To counter this threat, the FBI Cyber Division maintains partnerships with many private sector companies to identify nefarious conduct on their networks. Meantime the Counterintelligence Division looks upstream for actors coming into the US seeking access to US technology.

So what should companies do? First, protect yourself. Encryption can be helpful along with limiting access to sensitive information only to key people. Make sure, too, to track who in your firm is accessing trade secrets.

Also, be sensitive to unusual employee behaviors or changes in affluence levels. An employee suddenly downloading large files at night, emailing their personal email address sensitive information or whose debt problems have inexplicably disappeared could be engaged in economic espionage.  Just don’t jump to any conclusions.  There could be legitimate reasons for these actions.

Second, the FBI advises reaching out to them when an incident occurs. The FBI can’t investigate without ongoing collaboration of the victim organization. They also advise that it is never too early to call them in, and if you do not want them there, they will pull out.

Finally, take the time to leverage government resources. Be sure to familiarize yourself with the US Department of Justice’s Criminal Division’s Computer Crime and intellectual Property Section (CCIPS) website.

You will find there information on reporting computer, internet-related or intellectual property crime.

And, of course, listen in to the podcast to learn more about the risks of economic espionage and what you can do to mitigate it.