Industrial espionage is an attempt to gain access to information about a company’s plans, products, clients or trade secrets. In most cases, such conduct, especially when it involves accessing trade secrets is illegal. Sometimes rival companies will search through public records in order to make guesses about a company’s actions. However, when the search goes from the public to the private, it becomes an illegal act and punishable with jail time and financial penalties.
Although the Mission Impossible type of industrial espionage does exist, more frequently spying on another company is fairly mundane. Frequently, spies gain access to private information by finding someone who works for the spied upon company. If this person can be bribed, coerced or blackmailed to get such information, then this is essentially espionage.
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Often a recently laid off or fired employee may be disgruntled enough to give out private information for a small or large price. Alternately, some simply want to pad their income while still working for a company. Penalties for a person giving private information away can include quickly being fired, and criminal charges. This is particularly the case when an employee signs confidentiality agreements, or is working on government projects for which he or she has security clearance.
Another fairly common industrial espionage practice is hacking into a company’s computer system in order to obtain private information. Some hackers might use the names or personal information about clients to quickly steal money from them. Others use computers to steal information that might be sold to other companies for a price. Some might use this method as a form of insider trading, to gain information about decisions that would affect stock prices.
Industrial espionage does not frequently resort to violence, since the goal is to obtain a company’s information without the company being aware of the theft. Once the company suspects espionage, they may be able to quickly change access codes, alert customers that their information may have been stolen, or may change their plans to thwart the competitive efforts of a suspected rival company.
The goal for the spy is to get in and out of the information field without being noticed. However, many do note the spy’s attempt. This is particularly the case when industrial espionage involves spyware, programs which give more complete information about a company’s computer user. These programs can allow one to hack into the private files of another computer, or record the keystrokes of a keyboard user. It is estimated that many governments and corporations may use spyware against each other, but spyware does leave behind traces.