Damage of Intellectual Capital: Methods & Examples

Instructor: Beth Hendricks

Beth holds a master's degree in integrated marketing communications, and has worked in journalism and marketing throughout her career.

The theft or damage of intellectual capital is a growing concern and cost issue to U.S. businesses. In this lesson, you'll learn more about the methods digital criminals use to gain access to and exploit intellectual capital.

Capital Offense

It started with a threat to release previously unreleased episodes of Orange is the New Black. A month later, it was the new Pirates of the Caribbean flick. Over the next few weeks, data from a popular cable network's servers was stolen. All of these incidents involved demands for money. Criminals held the data hostage unless a ransom was paid for its safe return.

In the spring and summer of 2017, a hacker group known as The Dark Overlord terrorized television networks and movie studios by stealing information that did not belong to them in an attempt to extort money. In 2019, the group is still at it! They claimed to have important documents related to the September 2001 terrorist attacks, citing breaches they'd committed at various insurance and law offices. For the Dark Overload group, data was stolen partly through a vulnerability in security software.

Information that is valuable, proprietary and sensitive to an individual or company is known as intellectual capital. This data offers critical and strategic insights into an organization that, in cases like the ones cited above, can be capitalized on by cybercriminals.

It may not seem like a huge deal, right? Who cares if a few movies are released early? They're going to be released eventually anyway. Who cares about 9/11 documents being released? It's information that maybe we should already have. The problem is that the theft or damage of intellectual capital (sometimes called intellectual property) is a growing concern and is damaging. Recent studies conclude that the actual cost to the U.S. economy for these exploits runs upward of $600 billion annually.

The Truth Behind Espionage

The term espionage probably has you thinking of spy novels and top government secrets, doesn't it? While that is true, there are types of espionage that also impact businesses. Typically, these events are called corporate espionage or industrial espionage. This happens when an individual or group, outside or even inside a company, breaches the organization's networks to steal its data.

Often, this data is proprietary information, such as the movies and TV shows in our example. It may also be trade secrets that a competitor could buy to get ahead in the market. It could include financial information, business or marketing plans or even a company's list of clients. In short, anything that is of value to the business which could give another company an advantage or that could be used to extort money could be included in this definition.

In order to grab this information, however, the criminal masterminds behind it have to use certain electronic and digital methods. Let's take a closer look at some of the ways digital criminals gain access to exploit intellectual capital.

Data-Stealing Methods

Exploiting computer networks to steal data can be done in a number of ways. These vary from designing malware that infects or takes over a system to taking advantage of company employees. Consider the following methods:

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