Document Security & Vulnerability
© 2011 FrontLine Security (Vol 6, No 3)

Acountry’s assets for future economic growth include new product and technology creation, development and commercialization by industry. Both start-up and mature corporations use private and public funds to finance these latter activities. Protecting those innovation by applying for patent protection and safeguarding trade secrets is a key part of the operations of a corporation – and essential for its investors and owners.

Innovation secrets are vulnerable to human espionage, yet many companies are unaware of the risks and points of vulnerability. The information in this article applies to all companies even though it focuses on the vulnerability of biotechnology companies. Only publicly available tools and methods of espionage are discussed. The present day and future methods of espionage are becoming even more sophisticated in terms of collection abilities and disguise/concealment but really don’t change your vulnerability.

It is one thing to invest in electronic security systems to protect the facility from potential clandestine intruders but an industrial spy can be effective simply by gaining your trust and or friendship, or because in your urgent need to obtain financing you lowered your guard.

The effective human spy wears or possesses concealed tools that seem to be a simple pen, book, or brief case. A guided tour of the manufacturing or research facility is all that the human spy needs to clandestinely gather images of the processes or documents that they are allowed to read or view as you step out of the meeting to get coffee for the visitor.

Imagine the damage that can be done by a person that spends many months in a company! They had your trust so you never suspected that they could collect information while working so hard late at night. Even security at the front desk didn’t notice the hundreds of pages of information collected in the camera concealed within a textbook and later downloaded at home for internet transfer to their real employer.

Concealment of espionage tools like cameras has been used for centuries and today it is even simpler due to the size of the equipment. You signed the non-disclosure agreement and they gladly agreed that you would not provide copies of the sensitive technological process. You run through the presentation of the technology using a PowerPoint presentation, answering their questions and end the meeting looking ­forward to doing business with them in the near future. Did you realize that the brief case on the desk full of paper actually had a video recorded concealed in it and that your entire presentation was recorded? Probably not because you had a good feeling about the person, he was friendly and had a strong hand shake.

Document shredders tend to give a false sense of security. The size of the shredding defines the difficulty in re-assembling the document. Many shredders used today in companies slice paper into spaghetti size shreds of paper and these can unfortunately easily and readily be re-assembled. The ultimate security is shredding the documents into pea sized bits of paper or burning the documents. The pea sized bits of paper are probably adequate to protect the majority of industrial secrets. The information from charred documents can also be recovered using standard forensic methods. If burning is your method of destruction, ensure that the end product is crushed ashes.

Throwing spaghetti shreds of paper or intact paper into the garbage is asking for trouble. A garbage bag is like an apple, it is for picking! Human industrial spies can certainly obtain huge amounts of information from documents considered non-sensitive or non-confidential in the garbage.

It is excellent to shred into a pea size bit the draft of the new patent application, but what about the sheets of paper underneath the pages you were writing on? Remember that when you write on a piece of paper that the imprint of the trace of the pencil or pen remains as an indentation in several of the sheets of paper of the pad. When writing a trade secret or sensitive information, remove the sheet of paper from the pad and write your text after placing the sheet onto a hard surface where no indentation can remain on its surface.

Protecting against clandestine spy activities involves educating your employees about how easy it is to collect sensitive information using concealed devices. Ensure that you have adequate document destruction methods and don’t leave trusted and friendly guests in a room when you step out for a few minutes. Screening a potential employee or research fellow involves more than looking at their educational qualifications. Talk to several references to find out more.

Currently the President of CuraPhyte Technologies Inc., Guy Chamberland has worked for the RCMP and the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS). A chemist and forensic document examiner, he has also worked in the biotech sector.
© FrontLine Security 2011