Intellectual property theft is a growing concern, and it poses a real risk at large conferences where people from around the world are gathered, the Federal Bureau of Investigation said recently.
David Eagleman was one of more than 175,000 people at the Consumer Electronics Show held earlier this month in Las Vegas. He is a Stanford neuroscientist who co-founded a company that creates a wristband that helps the hearing-impaired hear through their skin.
The device was produced after years of research, so Eagleman wanted it well-protected globally.
“We have all the underlying technology patented, so we’re not terribly worried about patent theft. On the flip side, this is a group of 170,000 smart people, and so it’s something that we just have to watch out for,” Eagleman said.
Aaron Rouse, special agent in charge of the Las Vegas division of the FBI, said, ““It does happen from time to time where a piece of product may go missing or somebody has noticed when they get back to their factory that there has been a piece of software that’s been installed onto one of their systems.
“So it’s a matter of being vigilant,” Rouse said.
According to the FBI and federal prosecutors, last year alone, there was a long list of cases of proprietary information being stolen.
They include: a North Carolina man who pleaded guilty of stealing trade secrets from aircraft companies to help a competitor develop anti-ice aircraft technology; a software engineer at a Chicago locomotive manufacturer who was indicted for stealing proprietary information from his company and taking it to China, where he is believed to be living; and a Chinese national working as an engineer in California who was sentenced to 27 months in federal prison for stealing trade secrets from medical device companies and taking them to China.
There are many different types of entities that would benefit from stolen technology. “Could be a criminal organization, could be a foreign intelligence service, could be a competitor,” Rouse said.
At conferences, such as the Consumer Electronics Show, where there were more than 4,000 companies exhibiting and more than 160 countries represented, Rouse said one should be aware of who is handling the technology at all times.
“Before you come out to one of these conferences, [it’s important] to make sure that the equipment arrives intact and on time, that it makes it off the loading dock,” he said. “And then during the time of the convention, who’s handling your your equipment? Who is handling your product, and do they have access or the capability of installing malware onto that product at that time?”
As technology continues to permeate every aspect of life, especially internet file sharing, the FBI warns intellectual property theft is a growing threat that can cost companies billions of dollars.