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Friday, July 11, 2014

Economic espionage and the hacktivist role

By Ryan Norse

You've no doubt heard about hacktivists, those individuals who expose information for some kind of political or socially-motivated reason. Hacktivist actions have been met with much scrutiny, and while they claim that they are simply exercising their free speech, there is much concern about how much freedom is actually being exercised.

Corporate data security
Hackers access digital data using malicious code
A large number of hacktivists, it seems, have been responsible for much of the data that can be counted as being stolen. But there are also many benefits that hacktivists can offer to those looking to increase their security. And so the jury may still be largely out on these talented, yet controversial individuals.

One of these juries is the White House, who according to CNET, recently sent out a warning about hacktivists, saying that groups like LulzSec may be conducting something called 'economic espionage' against companies in the United States.

What is economic espionage?

The Federal Bureau of Investigation defines economic espionage as any act in which an individual "knowingly performs targeting or acquisition of trade secrets to knowingly benefit any foreign government, foreign instrumentality or foreign agent."

Negative economic effects of hacking
Corporate espionage costs billions of dollars annually
Business competitors both foreign and domestic are involved in this practice, which includes the targeting of economic intelligence in those technologies and industries that are thriving.

In the practice of economic espionage, those technologies which have been shelved for the time being are exploited for any trade secrets or open source information they contain.

In the case of foreign competitors, company insiders must be recruited. Via bribery, wiretapping and other methods, economic intelligence can be obtained. And business relationships which seem legitimate and innocent can be exploited for the purpose of obtaining intelligence.

A fine line between beneficial and harmful

Hacktivists definitely do walk a fine line where economic espionage is concerned. Any insider that a hacktivist locates which is disgruntled enough by their employer will likely be more than willing to leak trade secrets that can put the country's economic status at risk, in addition to any information they may have that fingers their company as having done some kind of social or political wrong.

Incidences are increasing

Economic espionage is on the rise, at least as far as foreign spying on technology companies in the United States is concerned. The technological arena is a fierce one, and it's no wonder with the number of new devices that are being released every few months and the number of companies trying to develop new technology to meet the needs of consumers.

Experts are saying that a major threat to national security in the United States lies in the theft of proprietary technology, which includes military-grade equipment. The attacks are becoming increasingly sophisticated from foreign hackers, but the cases where insiders look for secrets are also in the rise.

A threat that is related to economic espionage is the illegal sale of technology from the United States, which recently happened in China via a well-known military contractor. The contractor sold China components and software that had been embargoed to China, who then used the technology to build a sophisticated attack helicopter.

Steps for businesses

The FBI advises all businesses in the United States to protect themselves from economic espionage using a number of tactics. But first, they suggest that all companies be aware that there are threats to their technology, from the inside as well as out. Following this realization, an identification and valuation of all trade secrets should be executed.

Corporate data security
Information technology security systems are a high priority for companies

The organization suggests that all companies secure all versions of their trade secrets, both physical and electronic. They also suggest that a proactive plan be implemented for keeping trade secrets safe. Keeping all trade secret knowledge on a need-to-know basis is another way businesses can protect their information. Employees should also be trained in the company's proactive plan and any security measures you have put in place to complement that plan.

About the author: Guest author Ryan Norse writes on a variety of topics related to technology,  He recommends www.highspeed-internet-providers.com which is a free resource to consumers providing a simple method for comparing their available options.

Images:  1. Fairview/NSA, US-PDGov, "Where SSO is acessing your target";  2. ONCIX, US-PDGov, "Economic Espionage -USB"; 3. Cgarlati, CC BY-SA 3.0