Today, organizations face a variety of risks, some of which they did not even consider a few years ago. Further, many of these risks go to the very heart of their operation and viability. That is the risk of someone stealing their corporate knowledge assets – often referred to as the “corporate jewels.”
We are not referring to tangible assets such as buildings, technological or production equipment, or even people.
Instead, knowledge assets or corporate jewels typically refer to the following:
- Products or services under development
- Product pricing and production plans and details
- Planned marketing and promotional programs
- Databases containing information about staff, customers, and vendors
- Technologies currently in use or in the planning stages
- Confidential plans to purchase or sell an organization, division, or technology.
At one time, most of this information was contained in filing cabinets where it could be locked away and was reasonably safe. Today, it is online, in the cloud, or on corporate hard drives, making it surprisingly vulnerable to theft, often from savvy but unscrupulous employees.
Case in Point:
Wenfeng Lu was living a comfortable life in Irving, California. Over the years, he had worked for several American companies involved in developing and producing high-tech medical equipment.
At each job, Lu signed strict non-disclosure agreements designed to protect the knowledge assets, (i.e., corporate jewels) of each company. He was not to discuss or share any of his own research, his company’s research, their plans, or technologies in development with others while working for these companies or for a set period after leaving.
However, Lu was stealing knowledge from these companies – and finally, he got caught doing so. One of his employers had a monitoring technology installed that signaled an administrator whenever there was a “data dump.” This is when substantial amounts of data are transferred from a corporate hard drive or the cloud to a computer at one time or on an ongoing basis.
Suspicious that something unsavory and potentially damaging was going on, the employer called the FBI. The FBI found that Lu was downloading thousands of files from his employer regularly and selling them to companies in China.
According to the FBI, “Lu’s secret goal was to use trade secrets stolen from his employer to strike it rich in his native China. However, thanks to an FBI investigation, his plan was thwarted, and Lu is now serving a 27-month prison sentence.”
The FBI also added why protecting corporate knowledge assets is so important:
“These cases are important for the economic prosperity of our country. China and others are doing what they can to cut corners by stealing technology from American companies. It’s detrimental to U.S companies because they’ve spent years and money to develop the technology, and it undercuts their ability to sell it competitively.”
To some, this may appear to be a cybersecurity issue. However, in reality, it falls under the risk assessment and risk management categories.
Many corporate organizations hire risk assessment professionals to determine how vulnerable their corporate knowledge is to theft – internally or externally – and if vulnerabilities are detected, what steps can be taken to eliminate them. These corporate jewels are essential, not only to our country but also to the organizations producing them.
If you suspect your corporate knowledge assets are at risk, contact the FBI. If you want to ensure that they are safe, contact a professional risk assessment organization. This is a proactive step essential to protecting your corporate jewels in an increasingly technologically sophisticated world.
Johnathan Tal is Chief Executive Officer of TAL Global Corporation, an international investigative and risk-consulting firm. He served as a military field intelligence officer for the Israeli armed forces during the 1970s. Tal has also served as an antiterrorism security specialist. He is a licensed investigator, Certified Private Investigator (CPI), and Certified Fraud Examiner (CFE), and he holds a Bachelor of Science degree. He can be reached through his company website at www.talglobal.com.