Home News Stories 2007 July Tricks of Today's Spy Trade
This is archived material from the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) website. It may contain outdated information and links may no longer function.

Tricks of Today's Spy Trade

The Spying Game
Tricks of Today’s Trade


Male and female silhouettes shaking handsOne of your execs is on a business trip overseas. At an opportune time, a foreign spy covertly plants software on her laptop. Unsuspecting, she returns home and plugs her laptop into your company’s computer network. By the time your security experts get wind of it, your most cherished business secrets are long gone.

Welcome to the twenty-first century world of espionage. Threats like these may sound like the stuff of fiction, but they are real and could well be coming to a factory, office, or university near you.

But there’s some good news. Armed with an understanding of the possibilities, you can minimize the risk of you and your organization becoming an unwitting target.

So what do you need to know? Here are some basics.

Know What Spies Want

At the top of their country’s hit lists:

  • The inside skinny on our government’s policies and intentions towards their country.
  • Details on U.S. military plans and weapons systems.
  • The crown jewels of our economy: our nation’s best scientific and technological innovations and research, both public and private.
  • Cutting edge U.S. management practices, which themselves are a valuable asset.

Know Their Favorite “Disguises”

  • Representatives at supposed “research institutes”;
  • Visiting business professionals and scientists who want to tour your state-of-the-art plants and operations worldwide (a great place to take pictures and make friends);
  • Tourists or visitors on non-immigrant visas;
  • Diplomatic officials, the standard cover;
  • False front companies; and
  • Students and educators.

Know Their Collection Strategies
Here are just a few you might not expect:

  • Out of the blue, you get a call asking for the latest manual for one of your products. Or someone shows up unannounced at your plant and asks to buy large quantities of your electronics. The end game? They dissect your products and then go out and start producing the technologies themselves.
  • You hire a foreign-born engineer who has been educated in this country. Over a 10-15 year period, she rises to mid-level management. Then, she returns to her home country—where she gets paid by that government to set up a business that competes with yours.
  • A series of university students and professors from overseas take jobs in research labs on campus and get involved in related military projects. Individually, they learn only bits and pieces. But collectively, when they pass that information back to their home country, it paints a telling picture of our country’s defense initiatives.
  • Foreign intelligence operatives strike up a relationship with a business professional, tourist, diplomat, expatriate, or student visiting their country. At first, it’s a purely social relationship. But then it slowly turns to talk of what that person may know. In some cases, that person may end up selling vital secrets for cash.

And know this: we can help you better understand these threats and take specific actions to stop them.

Specifically: Join our Counterintelligence Domain Program or our Research and Technology Protection program.

Also visit our Counterintelligence webpage for more information.