Near the top of one of the best columns I’ve read on l’affaire Wikileaks is this assertion: “Clearly, there is no longer such a thing as a safe electronic archive, whatever computing's snake-oil salesmen claim. No organisation can treat digitised communication as confidential. An electronic secret is a contradiction in terms.”
Characterizations aside, there’s an issue here that companies are going to have to prioritize more highly than they have in the past. The concern is, of course, not a new one. There is the centuries-old practice that in recent decades has euphemistically been labeled “competitive intelligence” but that in plain language is industrial espionage or competitive spying – gaining an edge on the competition by finding out what it is planning or how it’s performing.
Julian Assange has upped the stakes considerably by lowering the bar. A disgruntled employee no longer need do the work of making sub rosa contact with a competing company; all that’s required is zipping a bunch of files onto a thumb drive or DVD or, in an unsecure environment, just emailing them directly to a Web site willing to post them for public access.
The implications this are many, and we will unquestionably be discussing them for some time to come. But the first of those is that it is vitally important to have a current and effective information management and security strategy, and to focus particularly on the details of information governance. But policy alone won’t do it; most of today’s corporate networks with thousands of users are likely no more secure than the “secret” network from which the Wikileaks documents allegedly came, so there are technology and people-related issues to discuss as well.
It is entirely possible that businesses in competitive markets could be facing an unprecedented challenge to their product and marketing strategies, one that will test their ability to react and reposition quickly and effectively. These are indeed interesting times.
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