It happens all the time: one company discovers that another has replicated its product but cheaper and more quickly. Or, a competitor managed to successfully poach a high-ranking manager, and she takes several prominent trade secrets with her. In both cases, your intellectual property is now out there, in the hands of people who want a slice of your success.
Your IP is one of your most valuable business assets. You don’t want to make the mistake of thinking intellectual property theft is only an issue for big companies like Google and Uber. Learn how to identify it and take steps to keep it safe using these steps.
Protect Your Business Intellectual Property with These Cybersecurity Tips
If you’re successful, then your competitors are dying to get their hands on your IP to figure out exactly what you’re doing and replicate it. And you don’t want employees (or ex-employees) to spill the secret sauce recipe. Of course, there are lawyers that dedicate entire careers to areas of intellectual property law like copyrights, patents, trademarks, and trade secrets. But I’d bet you’d rather avoid getting dragged into a lawsuit over your stolen trade secrets. Keep your trade secrets safe with these tips:
1. Know What Needs Protecting
IP takes many forms. While you probably know that you need to protect things like product designs or formulas, most businesses also own less recognizable IP. This includes:
- Beta features and data. Documented design challenges, early prototypes, test data, and even spreadsheets can give away critical details about your plans and operations.
- Employee training documents. These may contain trade secrets that can give competitors insights into how your organization functions.
- Internal documentation. Spreadsheets with quarterly goals or white papers meant for investors may contain information not intended for public disclosure.
- Customer or client lists. The SEC considers your customer list a trade secret and, therefore, IP.
2. Use Strong Access Controls to Limit Exposure or Usage
Your security policies should contain procedures that govern the access and use of IP. Users and accounts should have access to only the data they need to complete their jobs. Not only does this protect your IP, but also improves your company’s cybersecurity all around. A framework like SOC 2 or CIS Controls can help you establish a strong foundation for access control.
This helps prevent employees from downloading data to personal computers and bringing it with them to their next job.
3. Train Employees on Proper Access and Use
According to Kaspersky, human error and employees represent the largest risks for data breaches. Among the top five fears of business owners include inappropriate sharing of confidential information and inappropriate IT resource use by employees. To protect IP from these risks, we recommend:
- Educating employees on what IP is and why it matters
- Having employees sign non-disclosure or IP agreements
- Establishing a strong device use policy
- Consider deploying a whitelisting strategy to eliminate access to unauthorized sites
4. Deploy Monitoring Software
While all good cybersecurity strategies monitor network traffic, you can take a few extra steps to protect IP. You may need to choose monitoring software that allows you to track file transfers, printing behaviors, emails, and document versions.
Too much surveillance can make employees feel anxiety, distrust, or an invasion of privacy, so you’ll want to consider carefully what activity you actually need to track. That includes making the case to your team and communicating about new data you’re collecting.
5. Have a Plan to Offboard Employees
As policies like BYOD become more popular, your business data may wind up on personal devices. Ensure your employee offboarding includes procedures for removing confidential information on employee devices. Likewise, remember to have employees hand over any physical IP materials they may possess.
Keep Your IP Protected with Carbide
Does your business have a security program that uses access control, BYOD, or other best-practice policies? If not, you need one now. Your IP constitutes the backbone of your operations, no matter how simple or innocuous it may seem. Social engineering or vindictive ex-employees can lead to the theft of the very things upon which you’ve built your success. A solid security posture does more than keep your business and IP safe — your security posture can also improve (or damage) your ability to close deals. Want to know more? Talk with us about how you can keep your IP safe by creating a robust cybersecurity posture.
Does your company have security policies to protect your intellectual property?