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From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Industrial espionage or corporate espionage is espionage conducted for commercial purposes instead of national security purposes.

The term is distinct from legal and ethical activities such as examining corporate publications, websites, patent filings, and the like to determine the activities of a corporation (this is normally referred to as competitive intelligence). Theoretically the difference between espionage and legal information gathering is clear. In practice, it is sometimes quite difficult to tell the difference between legal and illegal methods. Especially if one starts to consider the ethical side of information gathering, the border becomes even more blurred and elusive of definition.

Industrial espionage describes activities such as theft of trade secrets, bribery, blackmail, and technological surveillance. As well as spying on commercial organizations, governments can also be targets of commercial espionage—for example, to determine the terms of a tender for a government contract so that another tenderer can underbid.

Industrial espionage is most commonly associated with technology-heavy industries, particularly the computer and automobile sectors.

Espionage takes place in many forms. In short, the purpose of espionage is to gather knowledge about (an) organization(s). A spy may be hired, or may work for oneself.


Theft of Information

Information can make the difference between success and failure; if a trade secret is stolen, the competitive playing field is levelled or even tipped in favor of a competitor.

Although a lot of information-gathering is accomplished by combing through public records (public databases and patent filings)[1], at times corporations feel the best way to get information is to take it. Corporate espionage is a threat to any business whose livelihood depends on information. The information competitors seek may be client lists, supplier agreements, personnel records, research documents, or prototype plans for a new product or service. The compilation of these crucial elements is called CIS or CRS, a Competitive Intelligence Solution or Competitive Response Solution.

Other Forms of Corporate Espionage

In recent years, corporate espionage has taken on an expanded definition. For instance, attempts to sabotage a corporation may be considered corporate espionage; in this sense, the term takes on the wider connotations of its parent word. In some cases, malware and spyware are used for purposes of corporate espionage.[2]

That espionage and sabotage (corporate or otherwise) have become more clearly associated with each other is also demonstrated by a number of profiling studies, some government, some corporate (such as this paper from the Software Engineering Institute [1]). That the US Government currently has a polygraph examination for the "Test of Espionage and Sabotage" (TES)[3] is also demonstrative of the increasingly popular (though not necessarily the group consensus) notion, by those studying espionage and sabotage countermeasures, of the interrelationship of the two. In practice, and particularly in regards to 'trusted insiders', they are more often than not considered functionally identical when it comes to the majority of the countermeasures.

The government of France has been alleged to have conducted ongoing industrial espionage against American aerodynamics and satellite companies[4] and vice versa. This list, compiled from public sources over the last fifteen years of the countries that are known to be customers of stolen U.S. technology: Argentina, Brazil, France, India, Iran, Iraq, Israel, Japan, Lebanon, Libya, North Korea, Pakistan, Peoples Republic of China, USSR(Russia), South Africa, South Korea, Taiwan.[5]

Russia, China and other countries have also been cited for pursuing espionage strategies to advance business interests as well. [6]

The Clinton administration has been accused of shifting U.S. intelligence assets from terrorism targets and toward economic targets to "level the playing field" for U.S. companies competing abroad.[7]


  1. ^ Corporate Spying: Snooping, By Hook or By Crook
  2. ^ Spyware as Corporate Espionage Threat
  3. ^ Test of Espionage and Sabotage on
  4. ^ A Case Study in French Espionage
  5. ^ Pitorri, Peter. Counterespionage for American Business. Chicago: Butterworth-Heinemann Limited, 1998.
  6. ^ Nation States' Espionage and Counterespionage
  7. ^ The Baltimore Sun, "Mixing Business with Spying," Nov. 1, 1996. (Fee required to read entire article.) mirror

Further reading

  • Barry, Marc and Penenberg, Adam L. Spooked: Espionage in Corporate America. Perseus Books Group, December 5, 2000. ISBN 0-7382-0271-1
  • Fink, Steven. Sticky Fingers: Managing the Global Risk of Economic Espionage. Dearborn Trade, January 15, 2002. ISBN 0-7931-4827-8
  • Rustmann, F.W. Jr. CIA, INC.: Espionage and the Craft of Business Intelligence. Potomac Books, November 2002. ISBN 1-57488-520-0
  • Winker, Ira. Corporate Espionage: What It Is, Why It's Happening in Your Company, What You Must Do About It. Prima Lifestyles, April 9, 1997. ISBN 0-7615-0840-6
  • Pitorri, Peter. Counterespionage for American Business. Chicago: Butterworth-Heinemann Limited, 1998.

See also

External links



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