Intellectual Property (IP) is one of the most critical assets that organizations have and in order to protect it, a coherent cybersecurity strategy is needed.
Intellectual property comes in various formats including business plans, software code, product designs, trade secrets and know-how. The formal definition of IP, according to the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) includes “creations of the mind — inventions, literary and artistic works, symbols, names, images and designs used in commerce”.
It helps businesses to stand out from the competition, increases their commercial value and provides additional value to customers. Currently a plethora of regulations – like GDPR or HIPAA – focus on protecting customers’ sensitive information, but when it comes to data security, organizations shouldn’t overlook intellectual property either. For some companies IP might be more valuable than the physical assets and it represents a target in case of both insider and outsider threats. In many cases sensitive business data leaves an organization by accident or due to negligence.
Each company has to deal with specific threat actors, but there are some steps that can be followed in order to better protect IP.
1. Having an overview of the confidential data
Nowadays many organizations store their information assets across multiple on-premises and cloud-based storage devices. Thus the first step to protect intellectual property is to locate it, have an overview of it and classify it from least to the most sensitive.
Furthermore, with the rise of BYOD, users often copy sensitive data to their personal devices when working remotely on their laptops, which puts data at risk. In order to avoid a data breach, it is essential to identify who has access to intellectual property including users, contractors and partners, as well as to define the potential points of compromise. Periodically reviewing the access controls to identify insiders that no longer need access (e.g. who left the company or moved to another project) is also an important step.
2. Enforcing security policies
Insiders or disgruntled employees often put sensitive data at risk, therefore organizations should prioritize the enforcement of security policies. Employees should be educated on the company’s protocols and procedures for handling intellectual property and should be aware of the consequences of their actions.
A data security policy should provide information on which data needs to be protected and where it resides, who has access to it and how the data needs to be protected. It should also mention how sensitive data, including IP, should be transported, as well as methods for its destruction when no longer needed or required.
3. Securing intellectual property
Organizations can choose from a vast array of data security tools and deploying effective threat countermeasures is vital for reducing risks related to IP. These include implementing technical controls to monitor user activity and enforcing access control.
Data Loss Prevention (DLP) solutions, like Endpoint Protector, are a core component of a cybersecurity strategy. These solutions can locate sensitive data, both in motion and at rest, as well as keep track of how they are being used and by whom. Encrypting sensitive business information or research and development information can also reduce risks of loss.
All businesses – from multinational companies through SMBs to recently established startups – should be aware of the threats facing intellectual property and take the necessary steps to safeguard it. By ensuring adequate protection, companies can raise their value.