The head of the FBI’s Counterintelligence division has noted that the Bureau has seen a 53% increase in economic espionage cases, or the theft of trade secrets leading to the loss of hundreds of billions of dollars, over the past year. He cited examples of large corporations successfully targeted in the past such as DuPont, Lockheed Martin and Valspar.
The FBI continues to see spear phishing attempts, when an email or link appears legitimate but is in fact a bogus message intended on tricking recipients into offering up personal information. Social media and sites like LinkedIn are also being utilized in economic espionage where potential recruits can be found and contacted based on relevant knowledge and work experience.
As cyber defenses improve, and as targets become more difficult to penetrate, the people with access to information stored on computer systems will increasingly be seen as the weakest link in security systems. By default these people will become targets to gain access to the computer systems.
Cyber espionage is typically viewed as something that only technical personnel can address, but cyber espionage is a much more diverse threat and can originate from many places. Chief information security officers will need the help of corporate counterintelligence (CCI) experts, human resources, legal counsel and executives if they hope to protect their companies.
Employees are a critical part of an employer’s defenses against threats. Many companies provide training in cyber security, such as warnings about phishing and social engineering, but rarely do they cover traditional espionage threats and tactics. This frequently leaves the majority of workers unprepared to guard against human intelligence threats. Defending a company against sophisticated corporate adversaries and state actors will only be possible with a well informed workforce and proactive CCI systems.