In terms of the many different types of surveillance techniques being employed around the world, industrial espionage is unique for a few different reasons. Also called economic espionage, industrial espionage is often employed for commercial purposes instead of those of national security. It often occurs between two or more different corporations and is often used to gain insights that can be used to build a competitive advantage in an admittedly crowded marketplace.

Thanks to the global economy that we’re now living in, industrial espionage cases are also on the rise. In 2015, CNN reported that the FBI had seen a sharp increase in these types of cases – particularly notable due to their Chinese involvement. When technology has advanced to the point where even the smallest businesses can now compete on a global scale, industrial espionage has very much become an international concern.

When people turn to the topic of counter surveillance and protecting themselves from these types of incidents, they most often assume that their primary concern should be malware. Rogue computer programs, when downloaded to a system, can potentially compromise every last kilobyte of data contained on it. While this will always be a danger, in terms of industrial espionage the tools are often much more severe. Many spies in these situations choose to bypass malware altogether, instead getting the information they need via a variety of terrifying “black bag” tricks.”


One common black bag trick often employed in these cases is called smartphone piggybacking, using a feature built into a smartphone from the time of purchase against its users. Most modern day smartphones have the ability to set themselves up as a personal Wi-Fi hotspot, allowing the owner to use the phone’s Internet connection on a nearby device like a laptop or tablet. Many hackers often use these Wi-Fi hotspots in public locations as a way to trick people into connecting to them. You think you’re connecting to the Wi-Fi hotspot in your favorite coffee shop, but in reality you’re connected directly to someone’s phone.

Once that connection has been established, all it takes is the right piece of software to “snoop” on every piece of data you’re sending or receiving – no malware required.

Fake Cell Phone Towers

Another common technique employed in the case of industrial espionage is the fake cell phone tower. All smartphones need to use a nearby tower to send and receive not only calls, but information from the Internet via the cellular network. Every single piece of data you access on your phone at some point will make its way across one of these towers. If someone sets up a fake tower near your location and your phone connects to it, suddenly they have something more powerful than any strain of malware could deliver: they have all of your data and they can do anything they want with it.

Vulnerabilities = No Malware Required

Another unfortunately common tactic employed by hackers involves the use of a smartphone or other device’s own security vulnerabilities against it. There have been many reported cases of people gaining access to a smartphone via a network connection and using security holes to either gain undetected access to the device’s microphone, its camera or both at the same time. At that point, the user will likely never realize that they’re carrying a portable surveillance device around with them in their pocket all day long. By that point, the damage has already been done.

All of this goes to underline the importance of counter surveillance. In an age where more and more of our personal (and professional) information is being stored digitally, taking steps to protect yourself from prying eyes is more essential than ever. Understanding what you’re up against – and acknowledging the fact that it isn’t just malware that you have to worry about – is one of the keys to making sure that your confidential business information stays that way.