9 potential signs of corporate espionage

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If you suspect your business has been the target of corporate espionage, it’s essential to act immediately, from conducting an internal investigation to hiring a private professional. If you see any of the signs below, don’t ignore it, but also be careful not to make unfounded accusations or statements. Keep your thoughts closed and get the evidence first.

1. Unexplained or sudden changes in practices

When staff members suddenly change the way they carry out established business practices, it may mean that they are also working for someone else. (Keep in mind that there could be other reasons too.) And if you see an employee suddenly working longer hours or coming in on weekends, that could be an additional cause for concern, as spies corporates may try to cover their tracks by doing this illicit work when they know they are less likely to be monitored. So when there are unexplained changes in behavior, and especially when people act strangely when asked about them, take note.

2. Changes in business relationships

If you stop working with a business partner and there is no apparent reason, it may be because that person is involved in corporate espionage against your business. (Keep in mind that such a change is usually sudden.)

Related: 3 reasons why you should spy on your competitors

3. Unusual computer activity

When strange activity occurs on a company’s computers, such as staff sending more emails than usual or using their own devices more often to send messages or pictures, find out why. While such a post could be an innocent selfie, it could also be a company classified shot.

4. Become defensive or secretive at work

A person who becomes secretive or evasive about what they are working on should be a wake-up call. Corporate spies may have to create business reports or presentations for their other employer, and will need to do extra work to make this role plausible. If you notice such a breakout, act quickly and ask questions. (Try not to be a micro-manager in the process, however, and avoid making direct accusations, but instead use a coaching approach.)

Related: Learn how to protect your business and others against cyberattacks

5. Hardware or Folders Disappear

Spying can be difficult to detect, but missing equipment and/or files are two of the most common clues. You may not suspect anything at first, but over time you may notice that staff members can be vague about what is going on with business plans and projects. There may also be absences that coincide with such disappearances. More than one laptop stolen or “just gone without a trace” should raise flags.

6. Unexplained drop in sales or profits

Business owners know that dips in sales are signs that something is wrong. While there could be many reasons for a sudden drop, industrial espionage is definitely one of them. When business is slow, it is natural for staff to try to find out what the problem is. If they don’t get answers from managers, they can start investigating themselves, and that’s when they can uncover corporate espionage going on.

7. Employees Quitting Suddenly

Sudden resignations are worth worrying about. If someone leaves unexpectedly and for no apparent reason, it could be a sign that they are leaving because their “mission” is over. If you notice someone quit abruptly, ask why. (Exit interviews are an effective tool.) Remember that such exits can also result from your work environment or culture, so be aware of both this possibility and the office environment as a whole. together.

Related: 7 ways leaders can gracefully accept a resignation

8. Access computer files without permission

Unauthorized access to a computer could mean that someone is trying to obtain sensitive information. If you suspect someone is accessing files without permission, investigate further: check logs to see what files were accessed and by whom, monitor cloud files and ensure all sensitive files have a permissions structure appropriate. (Work with your cloud provider to make sure you understand these roles and permissions.)

9. Company secrets leaked to the press

If the media suddenly has access to confidential information, espionage is certainly a possibility. If you believe that your business secrets have been leaked, you should step up security and investigate further. You can do both by looking for patterns in the leaks, as well as determining who may have had access to the information and how they may have obtained it.

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