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What Is Cyber Espionage & How To Protect Your Data

What Is Cyber Espionage & How To Protect Your Data

In discussing cybersecurity, we have said a lot about hackers and cybercriminals. With so many of them in the world, it is easy to focus on that aspect of the cybersecurity landscape. Of course, you probably know that data disasters can happen as a result of human error (like accidental deletions, etc.) and technology malfunctions (such as an instance where you lose data in a system crash). However, there is one type of threat that we haven’t discussed, and that is cyber espionage.

What Is Cyber Espionage

Espionage is the use of spies and other covert operatives to obtain privileged information. If IT technology or the internet is involved, it becomes cyber espionage. In the past, people might be seen as paranoid if they were worried about this sort of thing. However, those fears have proven to be well-warranted, as many cyber-espionage incidents are known to have occurred.

When discussing the question of how common cyber espionage might be, we should remember that these are covert activities. As such, most of these acts are not going to be documented…and if they are, they will be documented somewhere that most people cannot access. This makes it difficult for people to research the scale of the threat, so any such figures should be considered as a baseline minimum.

Corporate Vs. State-Level Espionage

Spies can come from more than one source, depending on the nature of the target. Most espionage in the world falls into one of two categories: Corporate and state-sponsored. While corporate espionage is usually carried out by private contractors, state-sponsored espionage is carried out by governments against rival or enemy nations.

Needless to say, state-sponsored espionage threats are a lot more dangerous. China, Russia, and North Korea have all been known to employ cyber espionage against other nations, particularly the U.S. and its allies. However, most companies don’t have to worry about getting hacked by a foreign power. Unless you are handling confidential information for the U.S. government, you won’t be likely to have what they want.

For most entities, corporate espionage is much more likely to occur. We know that these incidents occur frequently because the spies are sometimes caught in the act. For instance, there was a very interesting case that took place in 1993. Volkswagen managed to steal a large amount of data from General Motors, using a disgruntled employee as an avenue to do so. Unfortunately for them, however, they were caught. Volkswagen had to pay about $100 million to settle the resulting lawsuit.

Why Do Companies Spy On Each Other?

Corporations spy on one another for the same reasons that governments do so. It is always desirable to gain inside information on the operations of an enemy or a rival. For instance, if your company uses proprietary formulas for any of its products, there is a chance that someone might try to steal those secrets. A rival can always just change the formula slightly (to avoid a lawsuit) and use your own knowledge against you.

It can also be advantageous for a company to predict what a rival company will do. For instance, if you know that a competitor is launching a new product next month, you might launch something as well. This would need to be something that grabs a lot of attention so that it will be effective in drawing interest away from a competitor. There are quite a few ways in which corporate espionage can be leveraged into real competitive advantages.

How To Protect Your Data From Espionage

If you are handling sensitive data on behalf of a government, you will probably have a host of data protection rules that have to be followed. Thus, you won’t necessarily need to read this section as closely. For private entities, however, things are not so simple. These private entities have to self-regulate and take matters into their own hands.

1. Compartmentalize Sensitive Information

It isn’t too difficult to infiltrate a particular company, especially if a low-level employee can do the required job. This is why you don’t let low-level employees access sensitive data of any kind. Someone might be committed enough to infiltrate their way into your company, but are they really going to spend years working themselves into a position of trust? Probably not, if only because the time and effort involved would not be worth the payday. This is why you must separate your data into levels of access, with only top company executives and IT heads being allowed to access the deepest level.

2. Encryption And Firewalls

These are two of the oldest cybersecurity measures, but they remain two of the most effective. Encryption works by scrambling your data so that it cannot be read. It doesn’t go anywhere, but it gets “jumbled” and can only be made legible again by giving the password. Since the password is the encryption key used to decrypt the content, encryption is very hard to work around.

Firewalls, on the other hand, work by simply excluding certain addresses from connecting to your network. By utilizing a list of known suspicious addresses, you can configure a firewall to reject known threats at the door. Both of these security measures should be used in your network extensively

3. Employee Training

Most people simply do not understand the scope of this threat. In fact, some people would probably be surprised to know that freelance espionage is a thing. This is why you need to educate all your employees about this threat. Without being specifically told, they probably won’t be looking out for spies as they go about their daily routine.


The threat of cyber espionage is very real and is probably greater than ever. As both companies and governments look to gain advantages over one another, many of them continue to use cloak-and-dagger methods to get sensitive information on a rival. Since we cannot cover every aspect of this problem in a single short article, we would advise those interested to contact PCH Technologies at (856) 754-7500.