28 Oct 2013

The Rise of Industrial Espionage

Who Watches the Watchmen?

Money is said to make the world go round, and big business fuels the spin. Increasing globalisation means competition for markets can have a huge impact on a nation’s prosperity. And intricately tied to this model is the control of information.

At a time when millions can be lost or gained on the acquisition of a company or the well-timed release of cutting-edge technology, some have accused national governments of dabbling in the dark world of industrial espionage to stay one step ahead of the game.

In the spotlight this year are the world’s two military and financial powerhouses: China and the United States. Revelations from former US National Security Agency (NSA) contractor Edward Snowden have resulted in diplomatic tensions between the US and a number of nations.

One such claim suggests the NSA spied on Brazil’s state oil giant, Petrobras. The company, Brazil’s largest, is a major source of revenue for the government, so it’s no surprise that some South American noses have been put out of joint.

The allegations saw President Rousseff call off her state visit to Washington, where she was intending to show potential investors the bounty that Brazil holds in terms of energy resources. So far the United States has yet to reassure Brasilia about the aims of its surveillance programme.

Earlier this year America once again faced questions about spying, this time from France. The European nation demanded explanations of a report that claims the US swept millions of French phone records.

And just this week the US has become embroiled in a diplomatic tete-a-tete with Germany over allegations that American intelligence may have targeted Chancellor Angela Merkel’s mobile phone. Mrs Merkel’s government says she has complained to President Barack Obama in a phone call after receiving information that her phone may have been monitored. The White House said it isn’t monitoring and won’t monitor Mrs Merkel’s communications, but failed to say whether it had ever monitored her in the past.

The fact that Germany is the largest economy in Europe will not have escaped US spymasters, while getting the jump on any possible dealings must surely seem a very attractive proposition.

White House spokesman Jay Carney said the US is examining Germany’s concerns as part of a review of how the US gathers intelligence.

But it’s not just America that has been accused of unsavoury practises. The economic juggernaut that is China has also had an accusational finger pointed in its direction.

Former head of the CIA and the NSA in the US, General Michael Hayden, says there is evidence that communications firm Huawei has performed industrial espionage on behalf of the Chinese government.

The Chinese multinational is the largest telecommunications equipment maker in the world, having overtaken Ericsson in 2012. Claims have been made that Huawei-made telecommunications equipment is designed to allow unauthorised access by the Chinese government. Such claims have been denied by the firm, with a spokesman labelling them “tired, unsubstantiated, defamatory remarks”.

Yet they may cause concern for some in Britain, as the company started working with BT 10 years ago on telecoms projects such as G.FAST technology, aimed at offering faster broadband speeds using existing copper infrastructure.

Who’s to say how far the long lens of the law probes into global commerce. Claims and counter claims by governments can go on ad infinitum, with the truth obscured by rhetoric and subterfuge.

But one question is sure to remain: Is your business safe and what can you do to make it safer?



 
 

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