Technology

Spy vs. Spy: Corporate Espionage


Slide Show >>Hewlett-Packard's board-leak imbroglio has had no end of knock-on effects. There are government investigations aplenty. Every few days there's news of another high-level departure from the computer maker. And after reading of the lengths to which board Chairwoman Patricia Dunn and her squad of investigators went to find the source of board leaks, who hasn't thought twice about what they say on the phone or in an e-mail—or asked, am I being watched?

Hewlett-Packard (HPQ) isn't alone in going undercover to dig for dirt or other information you don't want to end up in someone else's hands (see BusinessWeek, 10/9/06, "Corporate Snoops"). It goes on in companies the world over. The thing is, companies often "overlook" protecting themselves from corporate espionage, says Brad Frederick, director of special projects at BrickHouse Security, a New York City–based security company.

According to Freedonia Group, a market research firm in Cleveland, corporations spent $95 billion on corporate security in 2005 alone, but most of that money was spent on surveillance efforts, such as installing closed-circuit cameras and hiring guards to patrol the premises. They're failing to protect themselves from more sophisticated forms of espionage.

LISTENING IN. But for every method of spying, there's a counteroffensive. One of them is the eavesdropping protection kit, manufactured by Dynasound in Norcross, Ga. To secure a room in an office building, devices are placed on ceiling plenums, floors, HVAC ducts, doors, walls, or windows—basically anywhere voices can travel.

William McCann, vice-president of national sales at Dynasound, says his clients include Fortune 500 companies and government agencies. Takers include companies in the midst of litigation and those planning to sell shares to the public for the first time. The sound-masking device works by releasing a soft noise that blocks out voices, making them impossible for an eavesdropper to hear.

Laser listening devices are among the most "sophisticated forms of offsite eavesdropping," McCann says. When the Laser-3000 is aimed at a target's window, the device lets the user listen to everything being said in that room. The laser picks up on vibrations in the window's glass made by voices in the room and then decodes that information and sends it back to the device. Owning a laser listening device is legal—though not necessarily how it's used. BrickHouse Security sells the Laser-3000 product for more than $50,000 and says it screens purchasers to make sure it doesn't end up in the wrong hands.

WHO GOES THERE? Another protection: vanishing e-mail. Called VaporStream, the system lets people send e-mails that cannot be tracked, copied, forwarded, or printed—leaving no trail. Users pay $39.99 a year to subscribe to the service and must log into the site every time they want to send a confidential e-mail.

Among the other countersurveillance products available is a wiretap-detection device that alerts you if a phone is being tapped or if there is any interruption in the phone line. When it comes to protecting the grounds from invaders, an ordinary fence might not be enough. The high-tech FiberGuard Net 800 uses fiber optics that alert you if the gate is cut or someone is trying to climb over the fence. Pick up one of those to see who's picking through your trash.

Click here for the slide show.


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