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“The Great Trade Robbery” – currently used in the context of questionable international trading policies and lopsided sports team player trades—now has yet another meaning. Two recent articles about Digital Espionage and IP theft by the Chinese Government and Chinese businesses describe a new trade robbery that has apparently been going for some time, and the extreme measures some organizations are taking to protect themselves.

A recent New York Times article discussed how employees now must travel “electronically naked,” meaning leave all electronic devices at home, as just about everything you carry with you digitally—your personal information, your contacts, your login credentials, your company’s Intellectual Property—will get stolen. The article went on to say, “The Chinese are very good at covering their tracks,” stated a former F.B.I. agent. “In most cases, companies don’t realize they’ve been burned until years later when a foreign competitor puts out their very same product — only they’re making it 30 percent cheaper.”

It makes sense that we become a little more circumspect with the information we carry around. Most of us wouldn’t tote our life savings in cash around the block (much less to China) without a very good reason to do so. A single smartphone can now be a gateway into our digital realm (as well as our life savings, because there’s an app for that). A Trojan installed or outright theft can conceivably lead to the theft of your entire digital life-savings and your organization’s valuable data.

A Business Week article, “Hey China, Stop Stealing our Stuff,” provided additional detail about China’s questionable “trading” practices, including sanctioned hacking of foreign entities by the Chinese Government.  The article included a few examples of the impact on the victims – millions of dollars lost, a significant drop in stock price, and a loss of customer confidence.

So we can’t just keep our data at home, apparently. We have to continue to be vigilant even on our “trusted networks.”

China represents a huge market, but these articles illustrate that companies doing business in China or with Chinese interests must begin to think about mitigating new levels of risk, and in some cases take drastic actions like traveling “electronically naked” to minimize potential exposure.

Putting China and extreme security aside for a second, how is your organization doing at some of the more basic data protection tasks? For example:

  • Do you know for certain where all the intellectual property in your organization resides?
  • Do you know who can and does access it?
  • How often is access reviewed?
  • Does the organization allow intellectual property to be accessed or stored on laptops?
  • Does the organization allow intellectual property to be accessed or stored on remote devices, such as smartphones or tablets?

If the answer is “no” to the first two questions, for example, forget about keeping your data secret from China—you may not be able to keep it secret from your kids.

What are you most concerned about when considering your organizations Intellectual Property? Please take our informal poll.

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