The digital age has opened up a virtual playground of opportunities for hackers to penetrate security defenses and gain access to sensitive business data and intellectual property (IP).

Whether caused by human error, technical failure, or a deliberate attack, a single security breach can prove catastrophic for businesses across industry sectors. 

Whether it’s corporate trade secrets, technology patents, or just employee know-how, for many organizations, intellectual property is the lifeblood of their business. Not surprisingly, intellectual property remains one of the top targets for cybercriminals. According to the Theft of Intellectual Property Commission, IP theft costs U.S. companies as much as $600 billion a year.

Although businesses understand the importance of safeguarding IP, many find it difficult to employ effective defenses without undercutting other business priorities. In their rush to close gaps and apply the latest fix, businesses often end up with an assortment of inadequate and ineffective solutions that still leave applications and systems vulnerable to attack.

As applications and infrastructure become more fragmented and dispersed, vulnerabilities become more difficult to spot. Before long you find yourself in a constant cycle of reactive response and damage control. Following some best practice measures can help identify areas of risk and weakness and protect your intellectual property and mission-critical data from loss or theft.  


1. Know what IP you have and where it’s stored.

Intellectual property can take many forms.

If you put your focus primarily on your main enterprise IT systems, you might miss other areas where intellectual property might be accessed or stored, including:

    • copiers
    • printers
    • scanners
    • cloud services
    • file-sharing applications
    • employee devices
    • third-party systems.

An important first step in safeguarding your IP is to prioritize and segment it. This will help you make better data management decisions and help you refine your security procedures.

Once employees understand what needs to be protected, they can better understand how to protect it, and from whom.

Begin by mapping your organization’s data assets and decide what information, if lost, would have the biggest impact on your business. Then evaluate which assets present the most risk for loss or theft. Putting those two factors together can help you determine where to best devote your protective energy and investment.


2. Secure both physical and digital access.

Although most of today’s security breaches occur in the digital environment, that doesn’t mean your physical data is safe from attack.

Loss of critical data, whether through theft or mishandling of physical documents, inevitably leads to a loss in business value. Therefore, actively examining data access authorizations, as well as appropriately destroying storage drives and physical documents could help prevent potential data exposure.

Be sure to properly lock and secure data storage rooms and files. Keep records of who has access to the keys. Utilize passwords where feasible and restrict employee access to sensitive databases.


3. Educate employees about data security.

The weakest link in the security chain is often users themselves.

That’s why security awareness training provides an important additional layer of defense as part of a comprehensive security strategy. With proper training, your staff will know how to identify potential threats, respond to security warnings, and implement access controls, helping to create a more robust security environment.

Work with your internal team to define and implement policies and practices based on your usage preferences and requirements specific to your particular market. Usage policies should define what behaviors are and aren’t acceptable and should include steps and protocols that control the use and access of intellectual property.

Ideally, users should only be granted access to the documents they need to accomplish their work. Also, make sure that employee off-boarding steps include procedures for removing confidential information on employee devices.


4. Implement the right tools.  

An assortment of data loss prevention tools and techniques are available for tracking files, documents, and other IP assets.

These tools not only help locate confidential documents but also track how they are being accessed and shared and by whom. Be sure to implement tight security protocols for all computer systems, including firewalls, security monitors, intrusion detection systems, and intrusion prevention devices, among others.

Encryption techniques, strong access controls, and user authentication methods can help ensure only approved users can obtain access to your networks and data. With some tools, access can be restricted further allowing employees to access only a defined part of the protected knowledge or data.

Other vital actions include:

    • use of employee non-disclosure agreements
    • application of methods to identify and monitor potentially dissatisfied or resentful employees
    • meticulous tracking of excessive or unauthorized access attempts.


5. Advanced threat protection.

Advanced threat detection tools, including machine learning and analysis techniques, can help uncover abnormalities and vulnerabilities in that traditional network analysis measures can’t.

With the ability to analyze data in real-time, these tools can compare events and identify specific patterns of behavior or anomalies that may signify a potential security breach.

With a better network, along with user behavior insights, businesses can keep closer tabs on approving user activities, identify questionable behavior, quickly uncover the underlying cause or potential threat actor and respond to the threat before it leads to loss of data.

Some tools allow you to monitor and track printing behaviors, document versions, emails, file transfers, and execute actions based on those activities. Ongoing monitoring of network activity can provide critical insight into areas of risk and vulnerability, helping to improve the likelihood that a potential intrusion will be quickly identified.

Be careful to apply the right balance as excessive scrutiny can create anxiety and distrust among employees.


6. Respond quickly.

When responding to a security breach, a swift and effective response is a must―particularly when intellectual property is involved. That’s where a carefully designed disaster recovery plan comes into play―helping to minimize the impact of a security breach on business performance.

At the center of any good disaster recovery plan is a strategic guidebook that defines processes and outlines procedures to be followed in event of a security breach. This document includes potential scenarios with detailed steps and actions to be taken to minimize the business impact of data loss and allow vital business applications and systems and to be restored and recovered quickly.

The plan defines the operational and management procedures and protocols for safeguarding confidential or sensitive information and steps for recovery. Determining which exact information was compromised provides the framework for developing a legal intellectual property rights assertion strategy. From this, you can implement proactive steps to mitigate damage and protect your company’s image and competitive positioning.


Charting a Proactive Plan

IT environments today are increasingly distributed and complex. They combine the physical with the virtual and can be scattered across geographies, creating greater difficulties in terms of identifying potential threats and vulnerabilities that could put your intellectual property at risk.

Although there is no silver bullet approach or guaranteed method of safeguarding intellectual property, a proactive strategy can help put your business on firm footing for effective loss prevention and fast, efficient recovery. That’s why it’s important to work with a trusted security expert who not only understands the latest security threats but can effectively define your business needs and create a plan that aligns with your long-term goals.  

Contact Wooden Spoon IT today to speak with us about safeguarding intellectual property in your business.