Revising our Understanding of Industrial and Economic Espionage

By Mario Bekes


Economic and industrial espionage come from a different base, but their activities are similar.

(Button, 2020) in his article quoted definitions from Wagner’ (Wagner, E.R., 2011) to explain and distinguish the differences between economic and industrial espionage:

• “Economic espionage refers to targeting or acquiring trade secrets from domestic companies or government entities to knowingly benefit a foreign state’”.

• “Industrial espionage is the same as economic espionage, except that rather than benefiting a foreign government, it benefits another private entity’.”


Industrial and economic espionage are clearly interrelated.

In previous pieces, I have discussed industrial and economic espionage along with the purpose and examples of those activities. However, here I want to examine two key elements of why industrial or economic espionage is successful and how competitors or foreign countries exploit them.

1. Human Factor – by nature this is either the strongest or simultaneously the weakest link in preventing espionage activities

2. Technical Factor – which explores vulnerabilities of IT and Cyber Security

Globalisation has enabled the world to evolve at an incredible speed, with new technologies emerging on a daily basis. Right now, we can divide our way of living and working in two main categories. Firstly, Pre-Covid and a new category, Covid WFH (working from home). Going forward, there is likely to be a third category, that of Post-Covid. I’m going to focus on the two known categories.

The reason for dividing the world into these two main categories is that technology, particularly IT technology, has evolved tremendously in the past two decades, leading to information being scattered around the globe in different locations and in different types of protective environments. This is a major factor, that according to (AUSTLII, 2000) means, “Criminals will organise themselves, adopting all those strategic information technologies useful in order to retrieve, manage and communicate important information.”

In other words, perpetrators of industrial or economic espionage will adopt and learn new emerging technologies to obtain information. This activity also needs the human factor to substantiate the validity and usefulness of the data.

If we take into consideration that in Pre-Covid era employees primarily worked in offices and the security around information management was more easily monitored and controlled. The massive increase in working from home has led to a corresponding reduction in the effectiveness of risk management and information security.

A logical conclusion is that the Covid WFH category has increased the opportunities for organisations to be the target of industrial and economic espionage. Organisations need to adopt human and technology-based intelligence processes to prevent damaging impact from these activities.

This post was written by Mario Bekes