Patents, copyright and trademark registrations are useful tools for defending your intellectual property through legal channels. But by the time you arrive in court to challenge an infringement, the damage will already have been done – your intellectual property is ‘in the wild’ and your competitive advantage slipping away.
It’s important not to underestimate the scale of the problem. According to the Commission on the Theft of American Intellectual Property, economic espionage through hacking costs $400 billion per year. In the UK, intellectual property theft is estimated at £9.2 billion per year. Across the world, businesses – and the economies that rely on them – are under threat.
That’s why it is vital to use technology to protect your intellectual property rights from loss or theft. We’ve identified three key areas where technology can help to strengthen your defenses.
1. Defending the perimeter
The very best way to prevent theft of intellectual property is to stop unauthorized access to your company network. Securing the perimeter should be a priority for your IT defenses.
Your firewall acts as the ultimate gatekeeper to the network perimeter, monitoring every packet that enters and leaves. Stateful packet inspection further increases security, dynamically opening and closing ports for authorized connections, and making it harder for hackers to spoof legitimate traffic. If they can’t get in, they can’t access your intellectual property.
Email remains one of the primary methods of delivering malware into corporate networks. The infection allows hackers to gain an initial foothold inside your network before going on to steal your intellectual property or commit other cybercrimes. Implementing a robust email threat protection solution like Abusix Mail Intelligence will prevent spam and email-borne threats from breaching the network perimeter. If these messages never make it into your users’ inboxes, the malware cannot be installed.
Web content filters
Compromised websites are another effective method of malware delivery. If users can be tricked into visiting an infected website, there is a significant risk of triggering a malware installation. On the plus side, Google’s Transparency Report notes that websites serving malware directly are declining in popularity with hackers. At the same time the number of phishing sites, which steal credentials and data that can later be used in hacking attempts, have been growing exponentially however – more than 2.25 million at the last count. Using web content filtering technologies, you can block access to suspicious or compromised websites so that users never come into contact with the malware.
2. Inside your defenses
Despite a multi-layer approach to perimeter defenses, you must prepare for the eventuality that intellectual property thieves will eventually break through. You must also be ready in the event that one of your employees engages in industrial espionage, stealing intellectual property from inside the network perimeter.
User access controls
Built into every operating system for decades, user access controls restrict access to sensitive data at the file system level. Without the right credentials, your intellectual property-related data is protected from accidental access or exposure by users who do not need it. Access controls only work when configured correctly, and your users do not share their credentials.
In the event that criminals do successfully breach your defenses, encryption renders your intellectual property data unrecoverable. Even if hackers do steal the files from your servers, without the correct decryption keys (usually handled automatically by your operating system) nothing is usable.
Monitoring network activity for unusual behavior can reveal a breach before hackers are able to steal sensitive intellectual property data. Modern auditing tools allow you to automate auditing, using machine learning and artificial intelligence which is able to analyze more data, more quickly than your network security team – and even trigger the initial stages of a security response to contain an incident.
Mail Intelligence will prevent email-borne malware, but you also need locally installed tools to deal with infections that originate inside the network. Installing anti-malware on your network endpoints will detect and remove viruses introduced by remote workers or infected removable storage media that your users bring into the office.
Air gapped networks
The ultimate technology for protecting Intellectual Property is less technology. Typically reserved for the most sensitive information, an air gapped network is a complete stand-alone entity with no connections to the rest of your company – or the internet. Computers and servers processing intellectual property are physically separated from other unrelated systems. This allows you to run a much more secure environment for your intellectual property and prevent data leakages and theft.
3. Preventing exfiltration
Unless they are simply hoping to cause damage and disruption, a cybercriminal’s main goal is to steal information from your network. Once they have gained access, they will then look for ways to exfiltrate data so it can be used or sold.
You will see that many of the intellectual property protection technologies have already been mentioned – but they serve dual roles to prevent exfiltration too.
Outbound firewall traffic
An effective firewall will also inspect outbound packets for signs of suspicious activity. By regularly reviewing and updating firewall rules, you can automatically terminate suspicious connections before data leaves the network perimeter.
Web content filtering (again)
Hackers tend to use quite sophisticated methods to disguise data exfiltration which your firewall is designed to block. However, disgruntled employees and industrial spies may take a quicker route, using web-based email to send copies of data, or uploading it to an unauthorized cloud file storage service (Dropbox, Google Drive, One Drive etc). This threat is real; Tesla is currently suing an employee accused of stealing up to 200 man years’ worth of sensitive intellectual property using Dropbox. Where intellectual property is accessible within your organization, consider restricting or banning access to websites and services that could be used to exfiltrate files.
Physical device restrictions
With the advent of cloud services, USB thumb drives and external hard drives are less common, but they still present a risk – particularly if your local computer policies do not restrict use. Unless there is a legitimate reason for using these devices, you should seriously consider creating policies to prevent access – and thereby theft of your intellectual property.
Technology to protect intellectual property is complex
The technology that protects intellectual property rights most effectively is actually a combination of several tools and techniques. In order to prevent theft, your business needs to address ways that hackers may gain access to your network and extract data from it.
Investing in solutions that strengthen your network perimeter, such as firewalls and email filtering, is a crucial step towards better protecting intellectual property. These tools will undoubtedly improve your security posture – just don’t forget to address the human factor too. Training your employees to recognize intellectual property and handle it appropriately will help to avoid ‘accidents’ that result in costly leaks.
As you analyze your current defenses, do not lose sight of the fact that there are several layers to consider. To provide comprehensive protections, Abusix has developed two complementary products. Abusix Mail Intelligence provides comprehensive email filtering to capture malware as it enters or leaves the network. AbuseHQ is a SaaS platform for managing your response to attacks and abuse within your network To learn more about these products and how Abusix fits into your intellectual property anti-theft strategy, please contact us to arrange a 14-day free trial.