Over 35 per cent of companies operating in various sectors across India are engaged in corporate espionage to gain advantage over their competitors and are even spying on their employees via social networking Web sites, according to a just-concluded survey undertaken by apex industry body Assocham.

Assocham carried out a covert survey during the January-May period and interacted with about 1,500 CEOs and EDs from diverse sectors in Ahmedabad, Bangalore, Chennai, Delhi-NCR and Mumbai to ascertain the measures taken by India Inc to safeguard their data, plans, clients' details, products and other confidential and trade-related secrets.

Besides, Assocham representatives also interacted with about 200 private eye agencies, corporate spooks, detective firms, surveillance agencies and trained sleuths in the five cities, Mr D.S. Rawat, Secretary-General, Assocham, said in a statement here.

“About 350 respondents from detective firms said demand from companies in the IT-BPO, infrastructure, FMCG, banking, insurance, manufacturing and telecom sectors is overwhelming as they have large database, sensitive networks and information like research and development processes, innovations, product specifications, new marketing and sales strategies,” he said.

Almost all the company representatives in these domains acknowledged the prevalence of industrial espionage to gain access to information and steal trade secrets of their competitors through private deals with sleuths and spy agencies.

Almost 1,200 respondents from various companies said they take services of detectives and surveillance agencies to spy on their employees’ lifestyle, keep a tab on their whereabouts and even the ex-employees (especially those laid off or ousted for committing a fraud) apart from the usual pre and post-employment verification.

Companies having strong unions and vulnerable to pilferage hire spy agencies and plant an under-cover agent, a mole in minor job profiles in rival companies to ascertain if union leaders are getting paid for creating trouble, disclosed many detectives, according to the survey.

Besides, many senior officials even said they go for background check of an individual’s commercial, criminal and financial records as part of an employment screening policy of their companies.

Nearly 1,110 respondents out of the 1,500 top officials said they use social networking sites such as Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Google+, Linkedin, Friendster and others to dig out relevant information and keep a track of their rival companies and employees.

Many said they monitor the developments in their rival companies through social media updates but they do take corrective measures to minimise the risks involved with social media usage and are educating their staff about misuse of social media tools and its backlash.

About 900 said they also indulged in corporate espionage and bugged offices of their rivals by planting a mole in other companies. Most of these said they generally plant people in minor job profiles such as receptionists, peon, photo-copier and others.

Monitoring software

About a quarter of respondents said they hired computer experts for installing monitoring software to hack and crack the networks, track e-mails of their rivals and perform other covert activities.

Many employers said they have invested significant amounts in installing spying gadgets in their office establishments to monitor Web site connections, phone calls and records, e-mails and review computer files of their employees and maintain a record.

Demand for spying gadgets in the country is rising at about 30 per cent and the market for spying equipments is currently poised at about Rs 4,500 crore with over 20 per cent of the market being controlled by CCTVs. Other spy gadgets included audio/video surveillance devices, GPS tracking systems and other such tools.