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Research on Trade Secrets

Hacking password illustration by Santeri Viinamäki, CC BY-SA 4.0, Wikimedia Commons

Each year criminals steal an estimated £280 billion of secret information. These crimes are hidden, with the perpetrators potentially thousands of miles away. Where does this crime happen? The cyber world.

Firms find their confidential business information such as prototype designs, strategic bid information and customer lists are vulnerable to theft by cyber criminals. These business assets are collectively known as trade secrets, as they derive their value from their secrecy.

When this theft is done to benefit foreign countries, it is known as economic espionage. Relevant examples of attempted trade secret theft via cybercrime are the numerous reportings of state funded cyber-hackers trying to steal secret information related to Covid-19 vaccine research

In general, concerned governments and companies are effecting important changes to combat this problem. Yet, despite the huge economic impact of these thefts, very little is known about them, and the link between cyber security and trade secrets has been given little attention both in practice and research.

Our colleague Dr Nicola Searle is seeking to address this lack of knowledge by investigating data on the theft of trade secrets to understand their economic impact. Funded by the UK Research and Innovation’s Engineering and Physical Sciences Council (EPSRC) it is hoped this research will benefit businesses, policy makers, researchers and the public, whilst importantly encouraging innovation.

Currently, Nicola and colleagues are collecting and analysing a mixture of unique empirical data ranging from semi-structured interviews to litigation data such as US indictments for criminal offences related to trade secret theft.   One data source of interest is gathering up-to date information on how companies use and share trade secrets within collaborative work environments. If you are interested in participating in the survey, please click here:

Anna Stewart, ICCE Research Assistant

Research is supported by the Engineering & Physical Science Research Council
( EPSRC ) Grant EP/P005039/1 , Economic Espionage and Cybercrime:
Evidence and Strategy.

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