Networks of spies and online fraudsters using bribery and fake identities may seem the stuff of high politics, but techniques devised by hostile foreign intelligence services to tap into state secrets are being adapted by those seeking industrial secrets for commercial gain.
The warning comes after investigators claim to have uncovered a series of high-profile infiltrations by Chinese state spies. In one case with ramifications for all organisations, an intelligence officer for China’s Ministry of State Security used the professional social media platform LinkedIn as a route to connect with British officials, academics and those in sensitive positions in security, science, and technology. Presenting himself as a legitimate connection, via a string of aliases and fake companies, he is said to have lured individuals into sharing secrets in exchange for money or lucrative business deals, including requests for specialist articles to be authored.
Targets on LinkedIn involved government officials, but the tactics were also applied to those with privileged research or commercial knowledge in academia and industry.
“It’s easy to see how this approach can be adapted from the arena of state-sponsored spying into the commercial arena and is a real wake-up call for organisations, of all sizes and sectors. They need to be sure they have up-to-date processes in place to protect their intellectual property and confidential organisational information. It’s also important that staff are regularly updated on new techniques being used by fraudsters.”
The burden is on business to prove they have protected their corporate intelligence under the Trade Secrets (Enforcement, etc) Regulations 2018, which sets out that reasonable steps must be taken to protect trade secrets.
David Downham Practice Director said: “A regular review of the processes you have in place with employees, suppliers and customers is essential, including non-disclosure agreements and confidentiality provisions in both supplier and client contracts.
“Restricting access to information internally is also important; ideally trade secrets should be stored using encryption and password protection, with clear protocols on access. And sometimes taking simple steps such as using ‘confidential’ as a watermark on documents can help reinforce the culture by demonstrating the value of information that may seem everyday.”
This is not legal advice; it is intended to provide information of general interest about current legal issues.