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The corporate espionage that flies below the radar

Headlines about economic, corporate and industrial espionage have been in abundance lately and for good reason. Many of those headlines have been about China and the recent summit accord with the White House. After this took place, many moved to relax their defense posture when it comes to espionage. China and other nation-states are not the only entities interested in economic, corporate or industrial espionage for commercial gain. Several subject matter experts agree that much of these espionage activities that target businesses are criminal-based. Either way, the threat is clearly there.

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Recently while on the executive floor of one large company a new twist to espionage tradecraft popped up. After entering a conference room, a note on the whiteboard caught my attention: "DO NOT ERASE."  Seeing that on a whiteboard filled with financial numbers, notes, diagrams and so on  is not an uncommon occurrence. When I was looking out the windows, I saw a drone slowly fly by. Given the camera capabilities that are now available and becoming common on drones, it would not be difficult to capture what was on those whiteboards. The images are digitally captured, cropped, enhanced extracted and then sold. How much sensitive corporate information is at risk due to this modern tradecraft is a huge unknown. It is probably not trivial. Think about all the whiteboards you see that are covered with information. Sales forecasts, corporate strategies, new product plans, financial projections; there is no shortage of sensitive information that is commonly found on whiteboards throughout the corporate world.

Business Insider recently published an article that estimated covering the drone market. In that piece they estimate that between now and 2020, the commercial and civilian drone market will grow at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 19 percent between now and 2020. To put that in perspective, they estimate the military side of the drone market is estimated to will only grow about 5 percent during the same time period. Another point to consider is the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) in the U.S. has forecast that over 1 million drones will be sold this Christmas season. Currently, it does not appear that the FAA’s plans to restrict, control or register drones will address these low-flying models that are not in controlled airspace.

Today economic, corporate and industrial espionage is big business. With significant money being made selling corporate secrets, this threat will only grow. Recently, the Director of the National Security Agency (NSA) Director Adm. Michael Rogers publicly stated that the formal agreement between the White House and China won't deter emerging threats from non-state actors. I wonder if the NSA had thought about this espionage tradecraft technique.

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