To many, corporate espionage is one of those things they only ever hear about on the big screen. It belongs in a James Bond movie or maybe a Grisham novel. But the truth is that corporate espionage is a very real threat to just about any company facing stiff competition in their industry. One recent story out of Japan serves to highlight the point.
Yoshitaka Sugita and Espionage
By all accounts, Yoshitaka Sugita was a model employee during his tenure at SanDisk Corporation, a company that specialized in making semiconductors. The business had also entered into a deal with corporate giant, Toshiba.
Eventually, Sugita secured a job with rival company, SK Hynix, and made the decision to copy confidential information about SanDisk’s NAND flash memories which are integral to products like smartphones.
As soon as he began work at his new company, Sugita allegedly handed the information off.
Perhaps most troublesome about this story to those currently in leadership positions at a company is that this is said to have happened back in 2008. Who knows what could have been transpiring since then?
Also, Sugita was allegedly at it for months leading up to his departure. So it wasn’t as though he lost his better judgment in a moment of weakness.
While there is no confirmation on these allegations yet, the evidence seems to be condemning. At his new South Korean employer, SK Hynix, Sugita was being paid twice what he had made at SanDisk.
It should be noted that what little information is coming out about has Sugita claiming he didn’t know he was breaking the law.
Educate Your Employees
What’s most striking about Sugita’s defense is that he claims he didn’t know what he was doing was illegal. Now, perhaps he’s simply grasping at any straws he can. But the latest reports claim he was only doing what was being asked of him. At first, he says, he was copying information to prove to his new employer how competent he was. Later, it sounds as though he’s suggesting a colleague at SK Hynix goaded him into it.
Who knows how much of that to believe, but an important takeaway here is to make sure your entire staff knows what constitutes corporate espionage and what the consequences are. The larger your company, the more people who could potentially plead Sugita’s defense.
Confirm Your Trade Secrets
Of course, there’s only so much you can do when it comes to how others will conduct themselves. However, what you have complete control over is your own company’s trade secrets and making sure they stay confidential.
You might think you know exactly what they are, but be sure to look at your competitors as well. Are you taking for granted a certain advantage they’d love to have?
Confirm the Threats
Sadly, in today’s day and age, there’s rarely one simple threat. Yes, your fiercest competition may want your trade secrets. But so may hacker groups. Furthermore, their agent may work through business partners, as a customer, a visitor to your building, etc.
Implement a Strategy
This is a very broad step to take, but it will be much easier if you conducted the two exercises above. Your strategy needs to focus on limiting who has access to trade secrets and being able to monitor this contact. When a trade secret is something like designs for a product or lines of code, it’s not as though someone can simply commit it to memory. Be sure you have an infrastructure that will report who has accessed it, when, etc.
Unfortunately, many companies aren’t set up to do this kind of thing. Corporate espionage either sounds too fanciful or they simply don’t have enough information. While my skills can catch someone who has committed espionage against your company, I can also provide guidance in helping to ensure it doesn’t happen in the first place.