How to Protect Your Intellectual Property and Trade Secrets from Cyber Theft

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Business organizations hold exclusive rights over much of the information critical to their subsistence. Hence, besides cyber-criminals who aim to exploit and blackmail businesses, industry competitors may also be a source of IP thefts.

While cyber-criminals use the common but now sophisticated tactics of hacking, phishing and planting malware, industry competitors may go the route of bribing employees and other unethical practices.

In addition, recent trends such as cloud computing and remote work have multiplied the potential for sensitive business information to land in the hands of villainous elements. Therefore, in protecting your IP and trade secrets from cyber theft, all bases must be covered.

Steps to Protecting IP from Cyber Theft

The first step to protecting your IP is to register it properly and secure exclusive rights to your creations. You can register your creations as patents, trademarks, copyrights or official trade secrets. This gives you legal protection in case your IP does get stolen; you cannot claim rights that did not exist in the first place.

In the case of trade secrets, which are the only type of IP required to be private, you must take active steps to secure their secrecy. Otherwise, the consequences could be damning.

Beyond securing the actual IP information, you must also extend your protection to internal documentation, employee training documents, prototypes and even spreadsheets; basically every confidential company data.

All these pieces of data may not be registered as IPs themselves but may contain references to trade secrets and information that make your company vulnerable. Only after this is done should you now explore actual cybersecurity measures to protect your data. We explore these measures in three different categories.

1. Data Loss Prevention and Access Control

In cybersecurity, certain basics must be covered before you can claim to be minimally secure. Safeguards such as firewalls, encryption, access controls, etc. help limit the exposure of sensitive information. Beyond these, though, develop elaborate strategies for protecting your data across various systems. Some are highlighted below:

  • A robust data loss prevention strategy will provide you with complete visibility into all data on the network, whether in use, in motion or at rest. This helps you locate potential data breaches from just identifying anomalies network and user activity.
  • Enforcing least privilege principles and systems will ensure that only authorized personnel have access to sensitive information and that no one can access more information than they need to perform a specific task at any given time.
  • Overall, adopt a zero trust framework for all users by continuously authenticating and validating everyone with access to key applications and data. Don’t leave anything to chance.

2. People Management

Systems can only do so much; therefore, you must ensure that your employees fall in line. Train them on cyber-aware habits to ensure that they are not inadvertently exposing information to cyber-criminals.

Unfortunately, there are instances where your employees may work against the company’s interests. To forestall this, have employees sign legally binding documents to protect company information such as non-disclosure agreements. Deploy some monitoring technology, but not to the extent of invading employee privacy.

In addition, research shows that 12% of employees leave their jobs with IP. This is due to lack of proper offboarding by cutting off the access of outgoing employees to confidential information. Do the same for third-party companies once your partnership is over and ensure that nothing is left behind.

3. Risk Management and Physical Security

Much of what makes up intellectual property might not be on the cloud or in digital format at all, but may be instead stored in a physical drive as paper sketches, physical prototypes, etc.

Implementing physical security measures in addition to cyber technologies helps secure access to trade secrete locations. Items like surveillance cameras and alarms should be the default technologies in place.

Cybersecurity can only be effective after you have taken stock of all the risks you are facing. You must always create space for ‘what if’ scenarios and your risk management should correspond to the level of damage that IP theft could have on your company.


An organization’s trade secrets are its life blood. Many organizations have existed for centuries because they successfully protected such IP information. Therefore, protecting your IP from cyber theft is different from protecting every other kind of company information.

Treat IP protection as though the stakes are higher, because they indeed are higher. With technologies such as AI and ML getting into the hands of cyber-criminals, the potential damage they will cause is unimaginable. Hence, you have to stay one step ahead.

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