Cybercrime – Costly Threats to Your Intellectual Property

By Joseph S. Heino

For most people, the terms “cybersecurity” and “cybercrime” conjure up visions of futuristic and rather ill-defined or abstract activities. But the trending attacks on businesses — of all sizes — are neither futuristic nor abstract. They are clear and present dangers to your intellectual property.

First, definitions – “Cybersecurity” is the state of being protected against the criminal or unauthorized use of electronic data, or the measures taken to achieve this. “Cybercrime” is any crime or criminal activity that is conducted via the Internet or some other computer network.

Second, a question – Is the threat real? The simple answer is “yes.” In fact the United States Department of Justice created a Computer Crime and Intellectual Property Section (or “CCIP”). The CCIP recently uncovered an extensive computer hacking, cyberstalking and “sextortion” scheme being carried out by a former U.S. State Department employee. This former government employee posed as a member of a fictitious “account deletion team” for a well-known e-mail service provider and sent e-mails to thousands of potential victims, warning them that their e-mail accounts would be deleted if they did not provide their passwords. The passwords were used to access social media accounts and data to the detriment of the victims and benefit of the attacker.

The threat to business entities is similarly as real. Just as personal information and data is important to individual internet users, intellectual property is a valuable intangible asset of your business, an asset which can be easily accessed by sophisticated cyber attackers. For example, a trade secret that gives you a distinct advantage over your competitors can be digitally misappropriated by a company insider or someone outside the company. Another example would be the pre-launch theft of copyrighted software code that is being prepared for commercial distribution. With your stolen trade secret in the hands of a competitor, product fabrication can be “fast-tracked” saving the competitor substantial amounts of time and resources in developing its own product. Using the internet to gain commercial advantages is just one reason why someone might be interested in “hacking” into and mining your company’s data. Businesses face another threat from a vindictive customer or employee determined to interrupt and disrupt your business. Do you have a disgruntled former programmer-employee who is bent on “getting even”?

The foregoing addresses the subject of “what” may be attacked and “why” your business could be at risk. However, the subject as to “how” to protect against such attacks is much more extensive as there are many tools available for carrying out cyberattacks. As computer and telecommunication technologies continue to emerge, the range of attack methods is constantly changing and expanding as well. With cyber threats continuing to rise, acknowledging the risk is the first step in getting ahead of it.

If you have a concern that your intellectual property may be subject to a cyberattack, please contact your Davis & Kuelthau attorney or the author, Joseph S. Heino, at 414.225.1452 / to learn more about what intellectual property is, how it can be stolen and what may be done if you believe that you have been victimized by a cyberattack.