I may be paranoid but that doesn’t mean they’re not all out to steal all our business secrets

In a world where nuance and diversity of opinion went out with the Spice Girls and the Nintendo Gameboy, everything must now be viewed through a filter of competing, polar extremes.

We are encouraged to believe that Brexit is either the UK’s greatest ever act of national self-liberation or national self-harm; that Scandinavia is either a liberal utopia or a high-taxing theme-park; and that Piers Morgan is either a bloviated bag of porcine body parts or a…well there’s always an exception to the rule.

Take the issue of industrial espionage, which has become clouded by claim – that it’s one of the greatest threats to global security – and counter claim, that it’s just one of the many ways to indulge the great British pastime of casual xenophobia.

On one side there’s the yoghurt-knitting Wokerati, who believe GCHQ should hand over all its passwords to the central committee of the Chinese Communist Party, as well as to their friends, relatives, and Mahjong partners.

On the other side, there’s the swivel-eyed jingoists, who think we should all be working in lead-lined shipping containers, with colanders on our heads, only ever writing things down on toilet paper that we should then eat.

Paranoia is fuelled by allegations that all Chinese business organisations are, in fact, arms of the state, and that any information gleaned from their commercial activities will automatically be fed back to the Government in Beijing, to be used against the west and its interest.

I’m not suggesting that China is the only country targeted by conspiracy theorists and underemployed press officers in the Ministry of Defence, but it does seem to take most of the flak.

Last year it was reported that the Loon Fung Chinese restaurant in Glasgow may be part of a global network of ‘influence and interference operations’ orchestrated by the Communist Party of China.  The restaurant denied any involvement in such an operation and insisted there were no spies based there.

It may be quite sensible to question whether Huawei should be given the contract to roll out the UK’s 5G network but that doesn’t mean there should be an embargo on any Chinese firm being involved in any aspect of British commerce.

You’d have to be a GB News presenter to believe that there’s a team currently working in a secret bunker in the rural hills of Guizhou on a Cantonese version of the Gregg’s steak bake.

While industrial espionage is usually associated with strategic sectors such as communication, aerospace, and security, there have been some recent examples of UK medical technology companies being targeted.

In 2021, one of the UK’s leading medical technology firms, under the pseudonym MedTechX, was the victim of a sophisticated cyber-attack that originated from an overseas threat actor.

The attackers employed spear-phishing emails containing malware, enabling them to gain unauthorized access to the company’s internal network. Over several months, the hackers exfiltrated valuable research data, related to cutting-edge medical imaging technology.

In 2019, device manufacturer InnovateHealth was targeted by industrial espionage in a case known as Project Vitalis.

This incident involved a disgruntled former employee who was recruited by a competitor seeking to exploit internal knowledge.

The former employee leaked sensitive design schematics and manufacturing processes, enabling the rival firm to replicate InnovateHealth’s cutting-edge device within months.

The stolen technology was released in the global market at a lower cost, rapidly gaining market share and crippling InnovateHealth’s sales. The company filed a lawsuit against the ex-employee and the competitor, but the damage was already done.

At a major medical technology trade show in London in 2022, a corporate espionage scandal emerged, involving an attempt to sabotage a UK-based biotechnology firm, BioMed Solutions.

 A covert agent, from a competing foreign company, was discovered covertly photographing confidential documents and prototypes at BioMed’s booth.

The agent was promptly apprehended by security personnel, and subsequent investigations revealed that the competitor had orchestrated the espionage operation to learn about BioMed’s upcoming product launch and research breakthroughs. This foiled attempt served as a stark reminder of the need for heightened security measures during industry events.

The consequences of industrial espionage on medical technology companies can be devastating.

Loss of proprietary technology, compromised research, damaged reputations, and financial losses are just some of the immediate impacts. In the long term, it hampers innovation, discourages investment in research, and threatens patient safety if stolen technology is not rigorously tested.

To mitigate the risks of industrial espionage, medical technology companies must adopt robust cybersecurity measures.

Employee awareness training, strict access controls, encrypted data storage, and continuous monitoring of network activities are crucial. Additionally, collaborations with law enforcement and intelligence agencies can help identify and neutralize espionage threats.

The rise of industrial espionage against medical technology companies in the UK represents a concerning trend that jeopardizes innovation, competitiveness, and patient well-being. The real examples presented in this article underscore the urgent need for the medical technology industry to fortify its defences against covert threats.

By implementing robust cybersecurity measures and collaborating with relevant authorities, companies can better safeguard their invaluable intellectual property, ensuring that the pursuit of groundbreaking medical advancements remains ethically and legally sound.

Taking sensible measures to protect intellectual property should be seen as sound business practice but it doesn’t mean we should be fearful of using our mobile phone to order a Chinese takeaway.

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