In the age of frequent data breaches, everyone with a computer or mobile device is a potential door to a wealth of valuable information. All a hacker needs is one person to let down his guard and click a link in an email or reveal too much information during a conversation. All of a sudden, your company’s secrets could be stolen and either used for a competitor’s benefit or sold for profit.
According to the FBI, corporate espionage is a booming business. Each year, spies steal an estimated $300 billion worth of intellectual property from American companies. In Harvard Business Review, Luke Bencie, managing director of security and intelligence advisory firm Security Management International, writes about how to keep your company’s secrets out of the wrong hands. Here’s what to watch out for.
In-flight social networks
Bencie says in-flight social media networks are more dangerous than you might think. A variety of programs on social media offer a way to find a buddy while traveling. But they can also make you a target.
“Imagine, for example, that your company is competing for a lucrative contract, and you are flying overseas to make a final presentation. Wouldn’t your competitors love to know what you are presenting before they do likewise?” he writes. “In the world of corporate espionage, identifying an unsuspecting target who’s pinned to the seat next to you during a transoceanic flight constitutes a juicy opportunity to obtain all manner of useful information.”
Questions from strangers
Social engineering, or what spies call elicitation, is an easy way to get you to reveal valuable information while talking with a stranger. The reason this practice works so well, Bencie says, is because of a trait in human nature.
“It might seem counterintuitive, but most people often feel uncomfortable withholding information from or lying to strangers. As a result, people inadvertently spill the beans about sensitive details–about themselves, their jobs, and their companies and families–without realizing it,” he writes. All a spy needs is a small window, a name, an address, a username, a birthday, and they’re in. Make sure your inherent egotism doesn’t get the best of you when a stranger starts asking seemingly casual questions.
Another big danger comes from using public Wi-Fi in international airports and hotels to check your email. These networks “are notorious for allowing operatives to intercept such activities,” Bencie says.
These suggestions might sound alarmist, but it’s undeniable that spies and hackers are out there looking for easy ways to steal valuable information. Anyone can be a target, so be aware of the risks and make sure to educate your employees to be careful the next time they’re traveling.