In 2019, most business leaders recognise that cybersecurity is no longer a concern reserved for IT. As data breaches continue to dominate the headlines, the list of big-name-brands who have fallen victim to the methods of cyber-criminals is ever-growing. Despite the level of sophistication that security systems have reached, the capabilities of cyber-criminals show no signs of slowing down; the resources and tools readily available to the average hacker today posing a challenge to organisations of every size and industry.
Even the smallest breach can send shockwaves through an organisation. As well as financial damage from the fines imposed, cyber-attacks that target customer data can cause a business to haemorrhage profits as their reputation suffers a critical hit. Yet, the potentially ruinous impact of the theft of customer data is nothing compared with the fatal blow a company can take if its own trade secrets are stolen. If customer data is a quick win for an opportunistic hacker, intellectual property is Eldorado for a savvy cyber-criminal.
Whether it’s your manufacturing process your marketing strategy or your product formula, protecting your intellectual property is critical to the success of your company. Should it fall into the wrong hands, the economic advantage you have over your competitors is lost; the the lifeblood that fuels innovation is compromised and your position in the market undermined – all because you failed to take the necessary precautions.
From tailored spear-phishing campaigns that implant malware to steal trade secrets to
hackers duping employees to elicit sensitive corporate data and even malicious insiders implanting a virus, threats to a company’s trade secrets can come from all directions. What’s more, the rise of BYOD policies that see employees reliant on personal laptops, tablets and smart phones only serve as additional entry points for threat actors to access the trade secrets of an organisation.
Recognising the catastrophic impact that a breach of this nature could have to your profitability, commercial activities and future growth is the first step in preventing attack, and many companies are already implementing sophisticated solutions designed to lower their risk profile and strengthen the safeguard on their intellectual property. Yet, even with these programs in place, leaders cannot afford to sit back, cross their fingers and hope it’s not their name splashed across the papers in the next high-profile attack. With this in mind, the following considerations are critical to leaders eager to protect their IP:
Getting employees up to speed with IP
While most employees should understand the value of intellectual property, providing training on the basics of trade secrets, what they include and how they remain protected is essential in ensuring the people in your firm understand the gravity of a potential breach to IP. Employment manuals and policies should further clearly define the proper handling of IP, electronic data and communications, and confidential information and an IP protection plan should be created and shared throughout the business.
Conduct regular audits and map out the risk landscape
In order to protect such critical information from falling into the hands of an external actor or malicious insider, leaders and info-security professionals must adopt the hacker mentality to determine potential blind spots in their strategy or points of easy-access. Conducting a thorough IP audit and identifying confidential trade secret information will enable you to add extra layers of security where it’s most needed, whether that be in your technology management policies and procedures or the knowledge your workforce possesses of best practice.
Restrict access to confidential information
Enhancing security measures to protect your IP requires you to consider who in your organisation has privileged access to sensitive data; it demands leaders to carefully assess the access rights of all staff and associates with the business and ensure employees only have access to the information they need to do their job and nothing more.
No matter the level of trust you have in your team, limiting access to confidential information is a critical step for any organisation seeking to safeguard their IP from theft or loss. Further, maintaining computer secrecy by encrypting confidential information through the use of passwords and other personal means will enable you to reduce the risk of misappropriation.
Create clear IP management policies
Just as with your customer data, developing robust management policies, standards and procedures for management and control of confidential information including handling, storage and disposal is non-negotiable for organisations with highly valuable intellectual property to protect. When an employee leaves the business, utilising the exit interview to remind departing staff of their legal obligations to the company and collect any sensitive documents will provide the peace of mind that your trade secrets don’t follow your employees out the door. Beyond this, leaders would be wise to tread cautiously when dealing with third parties, putting in place watertight confidentiality agreements and confirming that the level of disclosure is only as great as is required.
Should you seek further information or guidance on strengthening the security of your confidential trade secrets, help is at hand. For specialist advice on the protection of your company’s intellectual property, get in touch with a member of the team at 360 Law Group today.