By now, it’s a foregone conclusion that intellectual property is one of the most valuable assets any company owns. Leaving this resource vulnerable is an unacceptable risk, which is why protections like nondisclosure agreements and copyright protections are considered standard. But what if the “standard” is no longer enough?
Traditional protections largely ignore the threat of digital theft. A nondisclosure agreement should ideally prevent an ex-employee from talking about trade secrets, but it does nothing to keep sophisticated hackers from breaking into your network and stealing those secrets. In reality, cyber threats are a massive category of IP risk that has not been adequately addressed.
Most organizations have strategies in place that are constructed to deflect hackers and lock down IP. The problem is that what we consider IP has expanded beyond what these defenses were originally designed to protect.
We typically think of IP as structured data — information contained in a file with a clear format and taxonomy (like a patent). But realistically, IP is scattered throughout a company’s digital footprint. Emails, for example, are full of sensitive attachments, private conversations, internal discussions, and official information. This may not contain IP in the strictest sense, but these messages contain information that is just as relevant, sensitive, and valuable.
If that information exists outside of the cyber defenses, it’s completely vulnerable to hackers. It’s also an obvious and easy point of attack. At most companies, the defense does not match up with the offense. As a result, IP is at risk.
Taking a Comprehensive Approach to IP Security
Internal IP theft is also a major concern. Recently, for instance, Uber settled a major lawsuit
after one of its executives was accused of stealing information about self-driving technology from his former employer, a Google subsidiary. Companies must address this threat along with the equal risk of attacks from external or unknown sources. You can ensure your IP protections are as strong as possible with these strategies:
• Make protection a priority:
Employees can make or break your IP protection efforts. Creating policies and processes to safeguard intellectual property is important, but this spirit should really be baked into the culture. Employees need to understand how much is at stake if trade secrets are stolen or leaked. They also need to understand how many different forms IP theft can take. Education and training efforts do a lot to create a culture of healthy secrecy.
• Institute best-in-class security:
IP is a lot more valuable than a Social Security number. For instance, a Chinese company paid more than $13 million
for trade secrets stolen from Samsung. Hackers know that a big payday is on the line, so they target IP with their most sophisticated and aggressive attacks. Cyber defenses must be equally strong and effective, addressing all kinds of attacks and protecting both structured and unstructured data.
• Get executive buy-in:
How a company feels about its own IP is defined by those at the top. Company leaders need to understand the full value of IP, believe in the necessity of its protection, and model the kind of cautious behavior that all employees should emulate.
Rounding Out IP Protection with Zix
Zix is a leader in email security, which is actually the cornerstone of IP protection. Consider the hypothetical email we mentioned earlier, full of at risk confidential information whether sitting in an inbox or in transit. Without the proper strategies and technology in place, it wouldn’t take much for hackers to read the individual message or, worse, break into either inbox and steal all the IP inside. Zix helps prevent this scenario through gold standard email encryption.
The email inbox is also where many cyberattacks are launched. Well-crafted emails can contain dangerous links, malicious attachments, and more. With a single click hackers can suddenly gain unrestricted access to the company's infrastructure and all the IP within. Zix uses a multilayered filtering approach to keep these bad emails out of the inbox. Plus, machine learning helps identify new and emerging attacks.
Zix offers end-to-end email protection against a wide variety of threats. From defense against careless clicks to protection from hackers, the safety of your organization’s IP starts with the inbox.