What is Industrial Espionage?

wiseGEEK Writer

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.

Stealth technology, as used on the F-22 Raptor, has been a common target of industrial espionage operations over the last three decades.
Stealth technology, as used on the F-22 Raptor, has been a common target of industrial espionage operations over the last three decades.

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.

Sometimes a recently laid off or fired employee may be disgruntled enough to give out private information for a price.
Sometimes a recently laid off or fired employee may be disgruntled enough to give out private information for a price.

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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.

Some employees sign a confidentiality agreement.
Some employees sign a confidentiality agreement.

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.

Bribing someone to get information about a company is a type of industrial espionage.
Bribing someone to get information about a company is a type of industrial espionage.

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.

Industrial espionage is punishable by jail time and financial penalties.
Industrial espionage is punishable by jail time and financial penalties.

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Discussion Comments


One of my favorite fictional works dealing with industrial espionage is "The Iris Covenant!" It's all very real, and just as scary.


LeafBuilder knows exactly what he is talking about.

Has he worked for the CIA or NSA?


Major cause of industrial espionage?


In this day and age there are no shortages of ideas; some containing substance while others falls beneath the margins of hope.

In light of the opening summary, any idea is worth protecting because of the potential value involved. John's hypothesis paints an unnerving demonstration of what could go wrong for entrepreneurs who fail to protect their ideas adequately.

As an ecommerce entrepreneur, or otherwise, one must constantly be on the alert for idea thieves who has made it a job in and of itself to collaborate, plan and steal ideas in a manner so sophisticated that many times the belated victim has no inkling to what occurred until seeing the incident in hindsight.

Some thieves are so powerful and organized that many times trying to defend your idea against their aggression can prove futile as the very sources who would offer any form of protective services in the public sphere can also be corrupted and are working with thieves themselves in an effort to control market shares and revenue streams.

These operations are usually equipped with a GOVERNING BODY consisting of a Head Authority, Technical Intelligence Network, Bottom Feeders and unfortunately Innocent Bystanders.


1. Head Authority (Corrupted Government, Politicians and Law Enforcement)

2. Technical Intelligence Network (Can consist of a conglomerate of corporations and/or entities in specialized fields)

3. Bottom Feeders (Mischievous persons seeking rewards)

4. Innocent Bystanders (Self-explanatory)


The Head Authority, Technical Intelligence Network, or Bottom Feeders learns of your idea and assess the potential market value. Either party can alert the other so it really doesn’t matter how the information was filtered within the Governing Body. The most important factor for either the Technical Intelligence Network or Bottom Feeder’s circle is to alert the Head Authority who in-turn has the power to authorize an illegal investigation that breakdown any protection the entrepreneur may have as a citizen or legal entity. In order for the Head Authority to launch an investigation into the entrepreneur’s activities, at least under laws of the United States, the Head Authority must establish probable cause. Probable cause can be established in many ways but I’ll cite four (4) scenarios in order to incite the imagination -

1. False and Malicious Claims: complaints from elements within the Technical Intelligence Network, Bottom Feeders Circle or even ordinary citizens.

2. Record Search: entrepreneur’s public and private files are searched for information that may possibly warrant an investigation.

3. Provocation: pestering the entrepreneur in hopes that he or she will react in a criminal manner.

4. Framed: legally known as entrapment.

Once probable cause has been established and the investigation is launched then all hell breaks loose for the entrepreneur, the Head Authority now has all the resources under his or her immediate control, as well as resources in the Technical Intelligence Network and Bottom Feeder’s Circle to disrupt, aggravate, tantalize or use fear tactics on the entrepreneur. These tactics or primarily used to break the entrepreneur’s will in pursuing his or her idea by causing harmful effects on funding, services and even prospective partnerships.


Head Authority - Authorizes the use of illegal wiretaps; illegal searches and seizures, intercepts personal mail, authorize investigations into personal financial records, employ human decoys that misrepresents legitimate businesses, setup decoy businesses, coordinate entrapment methods, interfere with and/or disrupt business transactions leading to partnership deals (a.k.a.: tortious interference with contractual relations), interfere with personal relationships using human decoys, employ business boycotts, inflate markets to develop fictitious competition, authorizes the retrieval of private phone records and private medical files for useful information, employ GPS tracking devices, employ secret police, authorizes computer spy networks on the internet etc..

(Major purpose: Neutralize entrepreneur’s access to vital resources)

Technical Intelligence Network - In collaboration with the Head Authority, Bottom Feeders and Innocent bystanders coordinate, plan and direct systematic schemes to disrupt the entrepreneur’s daily business activities. This could include but not limited to; gaining illegal access to sensitive information and disseminating it in a manner that harms the entrepreneur, putting out obscured commercial ads on the internet or over television and radio networks that targets the entrepreneur’s integrity, attacks the entrepreneur both personally and professionally, deploy eaves-dropping devices, deploy computer spy programs and networks etc..

(Major purpose: Disrupt entrepreneur’s daily activities)

Bottom Feeders - In collaboration with the Head Authority, Technical Intelligence Network and Innocent Bystanders infiltrate the entrepreneur’s trusted network of family, friends and associates by fabricating lies then use responses from such sources to launch personal attacks, usually disseminating these attacks at ordinary society levels but are capable of having lies propagated in affluent communities or amongst prominent citizens. The size of impact depends on the Bottom Feeder’s wit and access to various classes of people.

(Major purpose: Discredit the entrepreneur)

Innocent Bystanders - In collaboration with the Head Authority and Technical Network, follows the direction of individuals appointed over them; roles are usually defined by their job descriptions.

(Major purpose: Nonspecific - usually protecting their jobs)


After the entrepreneur has been strategically separated from his or her idea then usually the idea becomes launched in a branded format created by the Head Authority or some component of the Technical Intelligence Network. In other instances portions of the entrepreneur’s idea may be absorbed into programs whereas either entity described above may find it useful. In the end, the entrepreneur’s idea may become an award winning phenomenon highly valued and utilized on the open market. After all, it was the original intent of the Governing Body to seize control, claim and profit from your idea.


A typical response would be that the entrepreneur’s idea was common knowledge and that plans were already in motion to implement the idea. In extreme circumstances the entrepreneur may be actually accused of stealing his or her own idea whereas the Head Authority or Technical Intelligence Network claims the idea was stolen from their possession and then threatens the entrepreneur with litigation or a lawsuit. In other cases the entrepreneur may be continually harassed into submission for long periods of time.


They are commended by individuals of the Head Authority and Technical Intelligence Networks ranks and are largely considered loyal peons; Bottom Feeders may receive monetary rewards or promoted within the corrupted ranks of the organizational structure. They see themselves as loyalists doing what it takes through brownnosing as a means to prove self-worth.


They are commended by individuals of the Head Authority and Technical Intelligence Networks for a job well done but are usually kept at a distance as such individuals may be considered a doubled-edged sword in keeping with ethical standards. Their participation could also lead to monetary rewards or promotion within the corrupted ranks. They see themselves as heroes who have brought down a real criminal empire.


The basic defense is to have your idea patented, copyrighted or trademarked if you can afford it. Copyrights and trademarks can be the least expensive.


After patenting, copyrighting or trade marking your idea try to get it publicized in a manner that catches the attention of big and small businesses, or law enforcement and government entities as most individuals in such establishments are ethical and won’t get involved in industrial espionage.

Remain diligent in monitoring your competition’s behavior in all known mediums as clues of theft may surface in these areas.

If you contacted venture capital firms as a source for funding or other idea launching entities and have shared your idea with them you may want to occasionally examine their portfolios to see what new companies, product or services were recently launched; look for similarities in business models.

With regard to the internet, keep your ears open and interact with social networks on and off-line just to hear what the new buzz is all about. Also visit blogs, chat-rooms and other on-line communities that may render clues of theft.

Don’t be afraid to ask questions or throw hints to individuals or organizations if you have the slightest inclination that your idea is being compromised, duplicated or a theft is in imminent.


Remember, your idea is your idea - it’s as simple as that. It is up to you to provide the best protection possible within your own confines; no one is going to be as concerned about the protection of your idea greater than you yourself. Governing Bodies do not steal your idea in the open it’s always done behind the scenes with minimum attention drawn to their corrupt activities. Don’t be a push-over, fight your rivals to the end as your idea is your idea and you of all people deserve the benefit of reaping the rewards first and foremost.

“To fight against a monopoly is to work outside a monopoly having no constraints.”

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