Industrial espionage

From ArticleWorld

Industrial espionage is the theft of information for commercial use. This information is closed propriety information. This information is often obtained through illegal methods such as bribery, blackmail and technological surveillance. This is often the difference between the successes or failures of a business as the theft of information can result in the loss of the competitive edge as well as increased benefits to the competition.

Types of intelligence

Security specialist, Robert D. Steele (1997) has put forward a classification system for intelligence, otherwise referred to as information. He has classified it according to four major categories. These may be listed as follows:

  • Open source or public information – which is information that is not proprietary but produced in a limited amount for a purpose. This includes data on the internet and newsgroups.
  • Open proprietary information – which is legal open source investigation of, for example, a company's products through methods such as reverse engineering.
  • Closed proprietary information – is trade secrets that are not available through legal means but through industrial espionage.
  • Classified information – is military and national secrets only available through espionage.


There are several routes through which trade secrets or industrial espionage information may be obtained. Trade secrets are often let out by employees. This may be with or without deliberate intent. Some employees sell trade secrets to the highest bidder while others unwittingly reveal confidential company information. There are also incidents of bribery, threats and blackmail. Another method used to accomplish industrial espionage is the use of telecommunications interceptions. This may use technology that allows the tapping of telephone lines as well as the use of microphones and other surveillance equipment.

Another controversial issue in industrial espionage is reverse engineering which uses legal means of obtaining information that is closed propriety information.