By Steve Ranger
Special to CNET News.com
November 17, 2006
It's not just James Bond who gets to play with all the cool gadgets.
More and more business executives are investing in secret agent-style
hardware to make sure their top-secret company plans stay under wraps.
Bug-detectors disguised as fountain pens, keyboards that can secretly
record everything typed on them, and clock radios with hidden
cameras--devices once only of interest to spies--are now being bought by
company chiefs who fear they are being spied on.
"The majority of the customers are buying countersurveillance
equipment," said Julia Adams, director of surveillance gadget store
Spymaster. "The majority are concerned with what is being leaked. They
want to make sure they aren't being bugged and that the competition
Some executives carry pocket-size bug detectors when they are in
meetings, on their own premises or elsewhere, that vibrate if they pick
up on eavesdropping equipment.
Adams said that people usually pay the Spymaster store a visit because
they have a feeling that something is not quite right and, as she points
out, "more often than not that feeling is correct." Once they have
equipped themselves with countersurveillance gadgets, executives often
come back and stock up on surveillance devices, so that they can then
find out which staff member in their office has been leaking
Business chiefs may well be right to watch their backs. According to a
survey of 2,000 office workers commissioned by Samsung Electronics, 57
percent of respondents said they have found and read confidential
information on a printer, and 21 percent admit to having read
confidential information on a colleague's monitor.
And it's not just staff leaking company secrets to rivals that bosses
have to watch out for. With the Cold War long over, corporate espionage
has been heating up.
According to MI5, as the U.K.'s national security service is commonly
known, foreign intelligence services are now targeting commercial
enterprises "far more than in the past," in an attempt to get their
hands on communications technologies, IT, lasers, optics and
electronics, to name just a few targets.
At least 20 foreign intelligence services are operating to some degree
against U.K. interests, MI5 warns, trying to get secrets from people by
exploiting technology such as communications and computer systems. This
means as well as buying countersurveillance gadgets to protect
themselves, companies need to make sure their computer systems aren't
coming under attack.
MI5 has a list with IT security advice on its Web site. It warns that
electronic attacks may come from a range of sources: criminals, foreign
intelligence services, lone hackers or terrorists. Companies should
conduct a risk assessment to establish whether they are at particular
risk of an electronic attack, it warns. Indeed, its sister agency, MI6,
recently advertised for techies to help keep its own networks secure.
Other recommendations include:
* Buy IT gear from reputable manufacturers and suppliers.
* Ensure that software is as up-to-date as possible. Consider checking
for patches and updates at least weekly.
* Ensure that Internet-connected computers are equipped with antivirus
* Always ensure that your information is regularly backed-up.
* Try to ensure that those who maintain, operate and guard your systems
are reliable and honest.
* Seek regular security advice from system and service providers and
make sure you act upon it. Pre-empt attacks instead of waiting for
* If there are particular categories of material you wish to protect,
you could consider encryption.
* Take basic security precautions in order to prevent software or other
information from falling into the wrong hands. Implement a program of
security awareness among your staff. Train them not to leave sensitive
material lying around and to operate a clear-desk policy.
* Invest in security cabinets and fit locking doors.
* Ensure the proper destruction of confidential material.
Steve Ranger reported for Silicon.com from London.
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