5 ways to protect your intellectual property from hackers
From patents and employee knowledge to a top-secret company recipe, intellectual property (IP) is often among a company’s most valuable assets. But as more and more organisations store their company data digitally, IP has become a common target for cyberattacks and theft.
Intellectual property can take many forms, from in-depth knowledge of a company's operating systems, to a creative concept designed by an individual employee. IP is often what gives a company its unique competitive edge, so protecting company IP against a cyberattack should be a key priority for businesses big and small. A breach of IP can result in vital knowledge or assets being stolen, sold, and distributed outside of your control — including to your biggest competitors.
IP protection is a complicated issue that falls under the remit of various specialities, from legal to human resource — but if your IP is stolen, catching the culprit, prosecuting them, and preventing your data from being dispersed any further can be incredibly difficult. That’s why it often falls to the IT and security teams to unify efforts and implement a robust final defence. So, what can businesses do to protect their IP from a cybersecurity threat?
To help you keep your company assets secure, the team at ESET has created a quick guide to setting up the basic policies and procedures needed for effective IP protection:
1. Conduct regular IP reviews
To start with, we recommend completing a risk analysis to map out your company data and assets, in order to identify what information would cost your company the most if it were to be stolen or lost. Then evaluate how vulnerable those assets are to a cyber breach. This will determine where to focus your protective resources.
Your IT and security teams should be in regular communication with legal, HR, R&D, marketing, sales, and production in order to identify what IP has been created and how it should be protected. To prevent anything important slipping through the cracks of business-as-usual, consider setting up a quarterly review.
2. Educate your employees on IP cybersecurity
Humans are often the weakest link in your cybersecurity defences, whether deliberately, by accident or from negligence. According to a February 2019 study by Egress Software Technologies, the most common ways for IP to be breached accidentally are through external emails like a Gmail account, company emails, and file sharing and collaboration tools like FTP, Slack, or Dropbox.
Everyone in your business should have a clear understanding of what your company’s IP is, and how best to protect it — so regular awareness and education training is an important and effective way to help prevent IP leaks.
3. Understand where your IP is, and where it’s going
While it’s important that your core IT systems are secure, it’s vital that you also consider other, less conspicuous areas where your IP might be stored or processed:
- Printers, copiers and scanners: Larger endpoint devices can store the documents they process, and are typically connected to your network and remote management systems, making them highly vulnerable to IP hackers. Make sure you have the correct policies and procedures in place to remove any documents after use, and have the right cybersecurity software and network protections in place to prevent unauthorised access. Services such as the ESET Security Management Centre manage all endpoints, servers, and mobile devices with a single console, allowing you to install, add or remove devices and oversee network security.
- Third-party sharing: IP is often shared with suppliers, partners, or clients, making it more difficult to track and protect. Work with legal to ensure your third-party contracts outline exactly how your IP should be secured, and have controls in place to ensure those conditions are respected.
- Cloud-based and file-sharing applications: Whether these are company-managed, or shadow IT your employees have downloaded themselves, it’s vital to stay aware of which applications and services your employees are using so that you can prevent any unauthorised access through the cloud. For extra protection, ensure that any company-approved apps are correctly configured, secured, and up to date.
- BYO personal devices: Eighty-two percent of cybersecurity professionals predict that unsecured devices, such as smartphones and tablets, will cause data breaches at an organisational level. If you have BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) practices in place, or if your employees are in the habit of emailing company work to their personal devices or home systems, you’ll need to educate staff on correct conduct with IP and personal devices, and consider installing monitoring systems to track where IP is being sent.
Software such as ESET Mobile Security, a powerful antivirus application, will help secure mobile devices against cybersecurity threats with data wipe capabilities, real-time scanning and security reports, additional tablet support, remote lock, and siren options.
4. Secure your IP in every way possible
Whether it’s on a server or in a desk drawer, your IP must be kept secure in every way — both physically and digitally. Imagine you were spying on your own company. How would you do it? Use that line of thinking to identify vulnerabilities. If information is confidential to your company, put a watermark or label on it that makes this very clear. Use pop-up reminders and passwords to limit employee access to important databases — and keep track of who has access to what.
5. Stay secure with the right software
There’s a great range of software tools available to help you track and secure your IP assets. Data loss prevention (DLP) tools are now a core component of many security services, allowing you to locate sensitive documents, and monitor how they are being used, where they are being used, and by whom.
Staying in control of your IP
These steps are a great place to start in protecting your business against IP cyber-breaches. Keeping your IP secure is vital to maintaining your company’s identity, competitive edge, and future success. For a more advanced defence and expertise, consider a managed security service such as ESET Enterprise Solutions.
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