Last week the FBI launched a campaign to educate the public about the threat of corporate espionage. What is new about this initiative is that the FBI is talking directly to the public about espionage and providing a list of suspicious behaviors that employees of U.S. companies should be on the lookout for. The campaign will even extend beyond the Internet to billboards and messages on bus shelters in cities from San Francisco to Chicago.
For the FBI, the risks of economic espionage have come to a head. According to FBI Counterintelligence Assistant director Frank Figliuzzi, "the current FBI caseload shows that secrets worth more than $13 billion have been stolen from American companies - often by insiders or former insiders at the companies that have been victimized."
One of the most fascinating aspects to this story is how prominent a role insiders are playing. The FBI and CNBC list multiple examples of current and former employees who were caught and prosecuted for theft of sensitive materials, often attempting to send the information to contacts in China.
This is yet another reminder to organizations of all sizes and types that insiders have the potential to cause truly significant damage - sometimes intentional and sometimes unintentional. Beyond the obvious damage that an insider can cause, such as deleting data and impacting operations (See the Shionogi incident), insiders can cause long-lasting economic harm through the theft of company secrets.
The response to insider threats must be comprehensive. Organizations can no longer rely on firewalls and other perimeter security for their security. Key data must be secured - from classifying it, cataloging where it resides, determining who truly needs access to it, preventing data export via email or USB drives, and then logging all access. In addition, the accounts that have the most potential to create the most damage - the administrators, or "privileged identities" - must be similarly secured. All employees and particularly the administrators - usually the most trusted employees - should only have access to the systems and data required to do their job.
It's time that we realize that we are all targets. Not just by individuals but by organized entities, from foreign corporations to intelligence services. As the level of sophistication of insider attacks rises, organizations must similarly "up their game."