Counter-Intelligence: Blocking Out Competitors
Counter-Intelligence: the ways and means to protect sensitive information from information-seeking competitors, and to keep information from spilling out. This is a large topic and this brief discussion will not suffice to discuss this topic in full, but it will give the reader something to think about
Counter-Intelligence: “But it didn’t seem like such a big deal at the time”
Sensitive information can be spilled out in the most innocuous looking situations. In this writer’s experience, CEO’s and customer service agents are the ones most likely to unintentionally key information.
A CEO, proud of a new product his company will be launching, may brag about it at a trade show, or while golfing with his “friends”, or while having lunch at a restaurant. Attentive ears are everywhere ready to pick up information.
In another scenario, a senior executive may boot up a lap top computer while travelling, just to look at planned merger or acquisition, or perhaps a new patent. This may happen at an airport or on a plane. Roaming eyes and cameras can easily pick up the information.
Company executives may have a new strategic plan on display in a boardroom, where anyone can see it – and photograph it.
When it comes to sensitive information, the attitude should be: “If they don’t need to know it, then they don’t need to see or know anything about it,” and “If you have nothing to gain by revealing certain information, then don’t reveal it.”
One quick and easy way to see whether your company is leaking information is to call your company and talk to the frontline personnel (reception, customer service, sales, etc.). You will be able to identify problems with security and service levels, and then take measures to correct them.
Counter-Intelligence: Verba Volant, Scripta Manent (Spoken Words Fly Away, Written Words Remain)
In 2004, accusations and counter-accusations of espionage were hurled between Air Canada and WestJet. This is a well-known case and will not be discussed fully in this article.
This is a perfect example of how sloppy security measures can potentially lead to disaster.
An executive of one company brought to his home some documents containing sensitive information, such as passwords to an employees-only website. He tossed these documents into the recycling bin. Someone working for the other airline took the discarded documents from the bin, and the competitor was able to gain pricing and passenger information for various destinations.
Two things to learn in this case: First, documents thrown in a recycling bin can be targets for unscrupulous individuals. Such documents need to be destroyed or otherwise rendered illegible and useless to the competition.
Second, passwords should be changed on a frequent and regular basis. If there is a possibility that a password could become known to hostile elements, then it is a good idea to change the passwords regularly and frequently to minimize risk.
In the same case, other sensitive information was obtained from documents that had been shredded vertically into long strips. Again, these documents were found in the recycling bin at someone’s home. The shredded documents were reconstituted by means of software, and sensitive strategic and financial information was revealed to the competition.
This shows that the documents need to be shredded either crosswise or into confetti in order to render them useless. It is a good idea to spend a few hundred dollars more on a good shredder than risk losing millions in business.
In this era of the Internet and Social Media, information security is of the utmost importance.
Conclusion & Suggested Literature
This concludes our discussion on Counter-Intelligence. We have learned what it is, how it can be used, and how to counter your competitors.
Competitive Intelligence is a complex subject, and this brief discussion has barely scratched the surface.
There are many books written on this subject, but the following are a good start:
Business Blindspots, by Ben Gilad
Confidential, by John Nolan
Competitive Intelligence, by Larry Kahaner
Blindsided, by Jim Harris
Strategic and Competitive Analysis, by Craig Fleisher and Babette E. Bensoussan
Why Mexicans Don’t Drink Molson, by Andrea Mandel-Campbell
Enrico Codogno is the president of Customer Foresight Group, Limited, a Toronto-based Competitive Intelligence and Market Research agency, specializing in providing Canadian businesses with customized research services.