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Corporate spying in India: The tools they use

Last updated on: May 17, 2011 11:40 IST

Corporate spying in India: The tools they use

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There is no business booming more in India than corporate espionage.

According to industry estimates, private detective agencies receive more than 10 requests a day by companies to spy on their rivals.

Fees for such services can range from Rs 50,000 to several lakhs of rupees.

With the competition increasing in the corporate world, companies are using every trick in the book to position their brand, launch new products and retain the best people.

A recent survey conducted by consultancy firm KPMG showed that 14 per cent of Indian companies have been victims of corporate spying.

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Image: More than 14 per cent of companies have been victims of corporate spying.

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Corporate spying a booming business in India

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Analysts say the actual figure is certainly higher than this as many companies do not report cases of intellectual theft or spying because they are afraid that going public might hurt their image and balance sheet.

Although everybody admits that corporate espionage is a growing problem, few are willing to go to court.

Experts say one reason could be the issue with Indian lax laws on spying and intellectual theft, firms do not see much benefit in spending money and time on legal action when successful prosecution could take years.

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Image: Few companies admit they have been victims of espionage.

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Corporate spying a booming business in India

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Legal analysts, on the other hand, cite the successful and timely settlement of Purolite-Thermax case as evidence that companies should not shy away from either going public or taking legal action.

In early 2011, an Indian company -- Thermax -- agreed to pay United States-based Purolite $38 million to settle a case over alleged unauthorised usage of water purification technology.

So, let's look at some of the tools companies use to spy on their rivals.

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Image: Companies use variety of tools to spy.

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Corporate spying a booming business in India

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Hacking

Hacking is one of the most favourite tools of anyone trying to gain access to secret information.

There are three types of hacking: Remote, systems and physical.

Remote hacking is when an attacker enters the network remotely and without any special privileges. After securing access to administrative or higher level, the hacker steals the confidential information.

System hacking is when an attacker, who already has access to low-level or privilege user account, exploits a security issue or a hole in security settings to gain access to secret information.

Physical hacking is when an attacker personally enters a building and tries to gain information through unsecure workstations, servers or telephone room.

Hacking has become the preferred method because of easy availability of hacking tools and also because it is comparatively easy to do.

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Image: Hacking is one of the most favourites methods.

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Corporate spying a booming business in India

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Social engineering

Social engineering is another preferred method of stealing classified information.

Social engineering involves an attacker sending an email in the guise of a system administrator requesting the user's password for some maintenance work.

The attacker will send the same email to several employees hoping that at least one unsuspecting employee will fall for the trap.

Password guessing in another technique. If an attacker can find out personal details about the target, such as children's name, birthdays, etc, he can most probably guess the password.

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Image: Social engineering is another preferred method.

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Garbage

Although rummaging through garbage sounds disgusting, it is one of the most successful methods to glean secret data.

People sift through trash to get their hands on such things as memos, printouts of sensitive data, company policy manuals, etc.

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Image: Rummaging through garbage is one of the most successful methods.

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Corporate spying a booming business in India

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Wireless hacking

To gain access to wireless network, all an attacker needs is the correct radio and proximity to the network.

Once the intruder has the basic tools, he can access both wired and wireless networks.

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Image: Attacker can access both wired and wireless networks.

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Mobile phones

There are companies that provide devices to monitor a targeted phone's location, listen to phone calls via a web interface and check the user's text messages and web history.

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Image: There are devices that listen in to phone calls.

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Document Scanners

There are pen-like devices that can scan whole documents without anybody noticing anything.

Some of these devices come with 64MB of internal memory, take MicroSD cards for expansion and can perform Bluetooth transfers as well.

They can scan without a computer, are highly portable and can transfers files to a BlackBerry or Windows Mobile smartphone or a computer.

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Image: Pen-like devices can scan whole documents.

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Remote monitoring equipment

There are tools that let you watch a live video feed from anywhere and listen in to phone conversations.

One such device is an 'air freshner' that has a colour camera inside, plus a SIM card that lets you watch the live video feed on a 3G phone.

There are also versions that call you when the device detects voices in a room.



Image: There are tools that let you watch live video feed from anywhere.

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