IP theft in midsized businesses – are YOU at risk?

Written by Sylvain Lejeune, Vice President Sales Asia Pacific & Japan at WatchGuard Technologies, this post was originally published on LinkedIn

I’d like to focus on an important topic, which is especially relevant for mid-sized corporates, SMBs and distributed enterprises: Intellectual Property (IP) theft. BIG business for cyber criminals.

When my Team and I meet clients who are midsize, SMBs, or distributed enterprises, many do not see IP theft as a threat. “It does not happen to us, we are too small for this” is the typical answer we often get. However, the cost of trade secret theft, counterfeit goods, etc., is in the hundreds of billions of USD – staggering numbers.

Why do SMBs and midsize enterprises think that way?
There are 3 main reasons as I see it:

  • There is a misconception that only the large enterprises such as Apple, Sony, Coca Cola, etc., are the target.
  • IP theft is largely invisible and goes unnoticed. Fraud actors use evasive and dormant malware to steal trade secrets. The fact that you are not seeing it (like ransomware) does not mean you have not been attacked. Most attacks are stealthy.
  • Finally, companies fear that disclosing such incidents will hurt their reputation and brand, harm relationships with their clients, or prompt regulatory bodies to scrutinize them.

Some examples of intellectual property (IP) theft include:

  •  If you are a pharmaceutical company: your research and development department is loaded with IP. Lots of competitors are very keen to have access to that information.
  • You are a recruiting & HR consulting firm, even if your topline sales are a few million dollars only, your training courses, training methodologies, or your client list represent critical intellectual property.
  • If you are a manufacturing  company, a competitor or a state-sponsored actor would be keen to get hold of a process you have invented, product blueprints, and product designs from you.
  • If you are a FinTech or a game developer: the source code and programs developed by your
    programmers are the key to the treasure of your company
  • If you are an airport: your commercial agreements with your retailers are your IP, and I bet they are of interest to malicious parties

Oh, and when you are at the office using the multi-function printer, scanning a document and sending it to your email address, do you know if a piece of malware has compromized the printer and is sending the exact same scanned documents to your competitor? That is IP theft at play.

What are the consequences?

So, because of IP theft, overnight you can find yourselves competing with copies of your own merchandise – on sale at half the price. Or you could be giving away information that your competitors can use to out-maneuver you and bring products/services to market much faster and cheaper than if
they designed those products on their own.

Losing intellectual property to cyber thieves threatens your company’s future.

What is the Bottom line?

Defend yourselves proactively against Intellectual Property theft. It is not only Apple and Sony and Coca Cola who are the target of IP theft and industrial espionage. The large companies have armies of lawyers and deep pockets to go after IP fraudsters. You don’t have that luxury.

The first line of defense against intellectual property theft is to have a robust and well-implemented cyber security and data management/protection strategy. It is critical to add employee education and awareness programs on top of it.

At WatchGuard, we protect networks and identities to reduce the risk of IP theft. Contact us for a discussion.