Espionage and Counterintelligence

Espionage is an activity that involves obtaining and sharing information about state secrets. Congress first passed the Espionage Act in 1917, just months after the United States entered World War I.


While spying may not have the glamour and thrills of James Bond, intelligence agencies still rely on it to maintain national security.


Infiltration is the process of entering a building or other structure to gather information. This can be 광주흥신소 done by observing a target or by breaking and entering. Infiltration can also be used to gain access to computer systems and data (see Cybercrime Module 12 on Cyber-enabled Intellectual Property Crime).

In the past, industrial espionage was committed by governments attempting to acquire proprietary or competitive information from private businesses in order to enhance their own economic competitiveness. In the modern era, a variety of motivations drive individuals and companies in technology fields to spy on each other and obtain nonpublic information illegally for a financial or strategic advantage.

The FBI prosecutes a wide range of offenses that can be considered industrial espionage, including theft of confidential or competitive information and insider activity. This Study focuses on cases filed under the Economic Espionage Act (EEA), a federal criminal statute that prohibits the taking of trade secrets from one company for the benefit of another.

In the three-fourths of the “possibly innocent” cases in this Study, prosecutors dropped the charges before trial. However, in four of these cases, warrants for arrest remain outstanding, and the defendants have not been brou 광주흥신소 ght to justice. This may reflect a desire by the government to avoid wasting resources on unfounded allegations of espionage and the potential for erroneous convictions. Moreover, a pattern exists whereby defendants with Chinese or Asian names are more likely to receive jail sentences than those with Western names, even when they are found guilty of EEA offenses.

Industrial Espionage

Industrial espionage involves the theft of trade secrets and other proprietary information to give a competitor an advantage. This is distinct from competitive intelligence gathering, which entails research into a company through websites, publications, patent filings and other public information.

A variety of tactics can be used to commit industrial espionage, including wiretapping a competitor’s phone or recording a confidential meeting. In addition, companies can hire employees or outsiders to illegally hack into a competitor’s computer systems to steal information. They may also hire hackers to infect a company with malware, which can compromise systems, corrupt files and disable systems.

Whether committed by foreign governments or disgruntled employees, industrial espionage can cost a company huge sums of money and time to bring new products and technologies to market. Moreover, the loss of intellectual property is often damaging to a company’s reputation.

While most industrial espionage goes unnoticed, it is still an ongoing threat. To prevent this, companies should regularly review the security of their systems and make sure that they are in compliance with industry guidelines, such as those set by NIST, FISMA, HIPAA or PCI DSS. Additionally, they should periodically check the credentials of current and former employees who have privileged access to data. This can help identify any suspicious activity such as a sudden rise in living expenses or debt repayment.

Corporate Espionage

Unlike industrial espionage, which involves the theft of proprietary information by competitors for financial gain, corporate espionage is typically committed by current or former employees to benefit their own employer. It’s common in many key technology industries, such as computer, semiconductor, aerospace, automobile and automotive engine companies. These industries spend huge sums on R&D and must bring products to market fast.

To steal the company crown jewels, hackers exploit a variety of technologies and techniques. These include malware, phishing, backdoors, remote access Trojans (RATs) and more to infiltrate networks, gain credentials and then move laterally across the network for the best data. The hackers then sell or transfer the data to their employer, a competitor, the government or a foreign entity.

In addition to computer-based espionage, spies physically breach organizations to search wastebaskets, copy files or hard drives from unattended computers and even use the capacity of cell phones to record meetings. Those travelling abroad for business are also a target for cyber-based espionage, with perpetrators known to trick employees into handing over their laptops while in hotels, taxis or airport baggage counters to copy the contents of their hard drives.

Companies can limit the potential for espionage by thoroughly screening all employees and contractors before hiring. Employers should also follow cybersecurity best practices, including performing background and security checks for all new hires and using strict data confidentiality policies. A 2010 legal dispute between Hilton and Starwood over the theft of trade secrets by a pair of Starwood employees was resolved in a way that shows how steep the penalties for corporate espionage can be.


Counterintelligence involves detecting and preventing the commission of espionage. It consists of three overlapping phases: detection, investigation and research and analysis. Detection techniques include surveillance; publicity, or making citizens aware of the dangers of subversive activities; and liaison, or sharing information between public and private security agencies.

Using the tools of counterintelligence, government services can catch spies and prevent their disclosure of classified information. To do this, they must monitor secure communications and less-secure systems, such as general Internet connections and commercial telephones, to identify unauthorized transfer of confidential information. They also use technology to search for espionage indicators, such as secret writing and signature intelligence.

Manipulating an intelligence professional who is trained in counterintelligence is not an easy task. It takes time and creative thinking to overcome the defenses of someone who knows how to catch spies and can protect his or her colleagues from being exposed as double agents.

The most common reasons people break trust and disclose information to hostile services or terrorist groups are financial stress, extreme political views and a tendency toward blackmail. Monitoring trusted personnel for these risk factors can help prevent espionage and keep valuable employees.