June 20, 2012

Corporate espionage via social media rampant in India Inc.: Survey

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Over 35 per cent of companies operating in various sectors across India are engaged in corporate espionage to gain advantage over their competitors and are even spying on their employees via social networking websites, according to a just concluded survey undertaken by apex industry body ASSOCHAM.

The Associated Chambers of Commerce and Industry of India (ASSOCHAM) carried out a covert survey during January-May and interacted with about 1,500 CEOs and EDs diverse sectors like – auto, biotech, BFSI(banking, financial services and insurance), consumer packaged goods, education, FMCG, healthcare, information technology (IT), infrastructure, manufacturing and telecom at Ahmedabad, Bangalore, Chennai, Delhi-NCR and Mumbai to ascertain the measures taken by India Inc to safeguard their data, plans, clients' details, products and other confidential and trade related secrets.

Besides, ASSOCHAM representatives also interacted with about 200 private eye agencies, corporate spooks, detective firms, surveillance agencies and trained sleuths in the aforesaid five cities.

"A whopping 350 respondents from detective firms said demand from companies in the IT-BPO, infrastructure, FMCG, banking, insurance, manufacturing and telecom sectors is overwhelming as they have large database, sensitive networks and information like research and development processes, innovations, product specifications, new marketing and sales strategies," said Mr D.S. Rawat, secretary general of ASSOCHAM while releasing the findings of the survey.

Almost all the company representatives in these domains acknowledged the prevalence of industrial espionage to gain access to information and steal trade secrets of their competitors through private deals with sleuths and spy agencies.

Almost 1,200 respondents from various companies said they take services of detectives and surveillance agencies to spy on their employees' lifestyle, keep a tab on their whereabouts constantly and even the ex-employees (esp. the ones who were laid off or were ousted for committing a fraud) apart from the usual pre and post-employment verification highlights the ASSOCHAM survey.

Companies who have strong unions and are vulnerable to pilferage hire spy agencies and plant an under-cover agent, a mole in minor job profiles in rival companies to ascertain if union leaders are getting paid for creating trouble, disclosed many detectives.

Besides, many senior officials even said they go for background check of an individual's commercial, criminal and financial records as part of an employment screening policy of their companies.

A staggering 1,110 respondents out of 1,500 top officials in various companies said they use social networking sites like Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Google+, Linkedin, Friendster and others to dig out relevant information and keep a track of their rival companies and employees.

Many of these said they do monitor the developments in their rival companies through social media updates but they do take several corrective measures in this behalf to minimize the risks involved with social media usage and are educating their staff about misuse of social media tools and its backlash.

While about 900 said that apart from social media monitoring they also indulge in corporate espionage and bug offices of their rivals by planting a mole in other companies. Most of these said they generally plant people in minor job profiles like receptionists, peon, photo-copier and others.

About a quarter of respondents said they have hired computer experts for installing monitoring software to hack and crack the networks, track e-mails of their rivals and perform other covert activities.

Many employers said they have invested significant amount in installing spying gadgets in their office establishments to monitor website connections, phone calls and records, e-mails and review computer files of their employees and maintain a record of the same.

Demand for spying gadgets in India is rising at about 30 per cent and the market for spying equipments is currently poised at about Rs 4,500 crore with over 20 per cent of market being controlled by close-circuit television cameras (CCTVs), according to ASSOCHAM. Other significant spy gadgets include – audio/video surveillance devices, GPS tracking systems and other such tools.


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