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What’s the worst thing your hackers could steal from your organisation?

Sure, no-one wants to have their passwords pinched – but at least you can change them later and clean-up any problems that the hackers have caused.

How about having your customer database stolen? That’s undoubtedly serious, and you might find it hard work recovering the trust of your customers after such a breach.

But consider something potentially even more more integral to your business: your intellectual property.

As Reuters reports, that’s what Chinese hackers are said to have stolen from Australian communications, metal detection and mining technology firm Codan.

The company says that three years ago it suffered a serious security breach, which saw hackers stealing designs for the firm’s metal detectors.

In other words, rather than rival companies reverse-engineering your technology and attempting to replicate it, today’s hackers are shortcutting the process by simply stealing blueprints, plans and design.

The consequence? Fake rip-off versions of Codan’s products produced in China have flooded the market, particularly in Africa.

And, according to Reuters, Codan’s sales of the firm’s metal detectors have collapsed as a result – forcing the firm to slash its prices in half to compete with the counterfeiters.

The impact on the company has been considerable, with net profit falling to AU $9.2 million in the year to June 30,2014 from AU $45 million the year before.

Detector

According to Codan’s chief executive Donald McGurk, the company only began to realise it had a problem when its service centre began to receive faulty metal detectors built with inferior parts in 2011.

Law enforcement officers told Codan that during a business trip to China, one of the company’s employees had used a hotel’s wifi connection without proper protection in place, and been hacked as a result.

As a gold rush in Africa boosted demand for metal detectors, the company’s priceless blueprints had allegedly fallen into the hands of a Chinese manufacturer.

To save its business, Codan has spent “significant sums” on investigators, working with the Chinese authorities to hunt down the counterfeiters. One lead took them to Dubai, where police found a “significant” number of counterfeit gold detectors, waiting to be sent to Sudan, Guinea and Niger.

Although jail terms have been meted out in China for some of those responsible, others involved in the international scheme appear to have so far escaped the long arm of the law or received relatively small fines.

But Codan hasn’t given up yet, it is investing in encryption technology to protect its intellectual property from future attackers and, according to reports, employs a small groups whose full-time focus is on countering hacker-assisted counterfeiting.

“It’s like playing Whack-A-Mole. They just pop up somewhere else,” says McGurk.

Codan website

Are you worried about hackers stealing your company’s intellectual property?

Make sure you have a strong layered defence, including strong encryption technology, to protect the Crown Jewels of your business.

If it’s true that hackers managed to break into Codan’s systems via a careless connection to an unsafe WiFi hotspot on a business trip to China, then ask yourself if the same could happen at your company.

Educate your staff about the risks, and make it easier for them to connect safely and securely to the internet – using technology such as encrypted VPNs to tunnel between far-away hotel bars back to the safety of your corporate network.

Because even if your company hasn’t yet been targeted by criminals eager to steal and monetise your intellectual property, can you honestly say that it might never happen in the future?

If your intellectual property is stolen, and exploited to its maximum potential by adversaries and business rivals, there is always the danger that your business might be one of the unlucky ones that doesn’t have any future at all.