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Recently I was surprised to learn how far espionage has moved from the traditional Cold War spying that focused on the Russians stealing our government secrets, to a new type of espionage designed to steal trade secrets and intellectual property.   The targets aren’t all multi-national corporations, but include small businesses like the ones we service. Most of the threats come from China.

Brett Kingstone’s 80-person fiber-optic lighting company, Super Vision, was targeted by a Chinese government shell company which bribed one of Kingstone’s key employees to steal designs and process secrets. The Chinese then set up a company to duplicate Super Vision’s products and offer them at low prices, since the cost of stealing was a fraction of the cost of Super Vision’s research and development.

In his book, The Real War Against America (Specialty Publishing Company, 2005) Kingstone describes how he was challenged by his distributors when they found his company’s products being offered for much lower prices. Kingstone was confused until he was able to get samples, which matched Super Vision’s products in every way.  Through a spy-thriller ordeal that included bribes, threats, shredded evidence, stolen equipment, fraudulent bankruptcy filings, an FBI investigation, and private investigators posing as Arab sheiks, Kingstone was able to get a $33.1 million civil judgment even though the culprits avoided criminal prosecution.

I learned about the espionage targeted at small businesses through my membership in InfraGard, the FBI’s partnership with the private sector.  InfraGard exists to combine the efforts of the FBI with private businesses, utilities, and other organizations to prevent hostile activities against the key infrastructure throughout the United States, 80 percent of which is privately owned.

The FBI needs businesses like ours to be both eyes and ears in our communities, as well as resources whose subject matter expertise can be requested to assist law enforcement in protecting our country. Eighty-six InfraGard chapters exist throughout the United States.

Besides protecting 15 critical infrastructure and key resource targets such as power generation and distribution, food, water, transportation, communications and banking, InfraGard gives you valuable information you can use to better protect your clients and your own business.

There are many networking opportunities just through attending meetings. Our chapter meetings regularly include participants from the FBI, IT businesses, utilities, local law enforcement, public service organizations, and security personnel from the large casinos here in Las Vegas.

ASCII members can participate in their local chapters to receive training and sensitive information about threats, counter-terrorism, and cybercrime. You just need to apply for the free membership and pass a background check. Some meetings are open to the public, but most include sensitive information and attendance is limited. Even though you cannot divulge the details, you can use what you learned to help your clients do more to protect their companies.

InfraGard membership can strengthen your security practice through the education you will receive and will give you a better understanding of the real threats that your clients face. You will also network with peers and prospective clients along with FBI agents and other law enforcement officials who protect the nation against terrorism and other threats. Who knows, you may get a call for help to assist the FBI in an investigation. Isn’t that more interesting than reloading Windows or removing a virus?

More information is available at Infragard’s web site

Mike Semel is one of the resident experts at The ASCII Group. He is also is the vice president and chief security officer for Business Continuity Technologies, an ASCII member managed services provider in Las Vegas and the Chair of CompTIA’s IT Security Community.