How to Survive an Insider

Business spy

The human factor is one of the most important factors for achieving business success. What is your employee like? Is he motivated, competent, staying in contact with you? Or is he rather isolated? Do you cultivate his personal qualities and eternal loyalty to the company, so that he shouldn’t ‘betray’ you to competitors, or even worse, to public authorities (for example, for your imperfect compliance with the hygienic standards in your laundry), if he leaves? And what if he ‘betrays’ you already being your employee? ‘Come on, that’s impossible!’ – you might say. But in fact, leakages if information made by insiders exist in every company. Let’s consider the most widespread cases of insider activities, but first let’s define clearly what this term stands for. ‘Insider’ is a combination of the words ‘in’ and ‘side’. So, the person is inside your company, but acts “from the outside”, for the good of the “outside”.

An insider is equally dangerous for a company, as a spy for a state. While the results of spying have consequences on the international scale, an insider’s activities might bring major harm to your ‘business planet’, if not ruin it ultimately.

How to identify an insider based on his behaviour, look or particularities of communication? Unfortunately, it is impossible. Not because the insider is hiding, but simply because 9 out of 10 insiders do not have any hidden goals of bringing damage. I am going to provide below a classification of insiders I have faced in my business activities:

  1. ‘Undercover spy’. This type of insiders is the main ‘enemy’ actor who came to your company as a partner, employee or customer in order to reveal all details, and to use this information subsequently for his own benefit or for the benefit of another entrepreneur. A ‘spy’ doesn’t necessarily come and stay there for a short time. In large companies, insider spies can keep working for many years, regularly supplying valuable information to the ‘home headquarters’, i.e. to the competitor company. The insider gets double financial benefits in this case: he earns a wage for his work, and bonuses for loyalty to the ‘home headquarters’. Quite probably, a spy might be a recently hired employee. He might come, make himself familiar with the situation, gain access to the contact data of customers or to the company’s internal regulations, and then quit his job even before the end of the probation period. As a rule, this occurs in large corporations and international companies, but is not typical of small businesses.
  2. ‘Intelligence agent’. An intelligence agent’s activity will be spontaneous. He might come as a customer, a candidate for a vacancy, a potential partner, or otherwise, which will allow him asking questions on your services and on other things he would be unable to learn from public information. An intelligence agent can be recognized based on the persistence of his interrogation and the details he wishes to know. At the same time, one might take for an intelligence agent an ordinary meticulous and over-interested customer, who might be asking just the same questions.
  3. Insider activities are not always intentional. Often, information leakages from a company occur due to reckless, unrecognised actions, or due to deliberate boasting on the part of its employees, top managers or owners. The world is full of rumours, and even more so when rumours come from a reliable source. Information on the amounts of salaries, technologies used, number of customers and even the amount of income can be disclosed over a cup of coffee, in the course of a friendly conversation. Even if the ‘inadvertent’ insider’s interlocutor refrains from using this information, he might share the ‘rumours’ with third parties. As a result, this might lead not only to six degrees of separation, but also to Chinese whispers.

To protect your company from intentional and unintentional insider activities, you should undertake a range of measures in relation to employees, partners and yourself. I recommend you to start with the following:

  • when entering into a labour agreement with an employee or a partnership agreement with a partner, always stipulate a confidentiality clause. Any breach of this rule should entail fines or other sanctions considerable for the potential breaching party;
  • when hiring employees, discuss all rules of confidentiality, including measures to be undertaken in case of disclosure;
  • analyse thoroughly the candidates for a vacancy. Browse for information in online social networks, public information sources and registers. Try to make sure that the candidate’s goal is employment, and not ‘intelligence’;
  • when sacking an employee, remind him that disclosure of information is a breach of your agreement not only during his or her employment, but even thereafter;
  • watch over the information you share with third parties, including with friends. Identify the information which might be used against you, and never share such information, even with best friends;
  • create and comply with your company’s information policy, which would cover all aspects of entrepreneurial activities: from interaction with customers to marketing.

Following these rules, you will not be surprised at reliable and unreliable rumours spread on your business.



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