How Corporate Espionage Harms Your Business – Robert Kerbeck
You know what espionage is, but you’ve probably never heard about corporate espionage. Our guest today used to be a corporate spy, so make sure you tune into this episode to hear about his exciting spy stories.
Meet Robert Kerbeck. Robert is the author of a true crime memoir, RUSE: Lying the American Dream from Hollywood to Wall Street and a nonfiction book Malibu Burning: The Real Story Behind LA’s Most Devastating Wildfire. Robert went from being a professional actor working alongside Hollywood’s most famous legends to becoming a corporate spy convincing corporate employees to spill their companies’ best-kept secrets and charming them into revealing the most valuable details. In his latest book, Robert gives a juicy look into the dark world of corporate espionage and cybercrime. Also, RUSE is currently in development for a TV series with Silver Lining Entertainment, soon-to-be the first show about the hidden life of corporate spies.
According to Robert, the weakest link in cybersecurity is the human being, so companies should invest more in teaching their employees to prevent these types of attacks.
In this episode of the Think Business with Tyler podcast, we talk about corporate espionage, why humans are still the biggest security risk, how to train your employees on cybersecurity, and why urgency is usually a red flag.
If you want to hear more about corporate espionage and potential cybersecurity risks, make sure you tune into this episode to hear what Robert has to say.
💡 Name: Robert Kerbeck
💡 What he does: He’s the Author of the book called RUSE: Lying the American Dream from Hollywood to Wall Street at Steerforth Press.
💡 Noteworthy: Robert’s book has received praise from Frank Abagnale (Catch Me If You Can), ex-CIA Agent Valerie Plame (Fair Game), and Bradley Hope (Billion Dollar Whale). RUSE is currently in development for a TV series with Silver Lining Entertainment.
💡 Key Quote: “They would not have been able to hack the system if they had not found a friendly employee who told them things they never should have told them, and so I always tell people, the weakest link of cybersecurity is always without a doubt the human being.”
💡 Where to find Robert: LinkedIn
What is corporate espionage? Cybersecurity threats are more prevalent than ever, especially since the emergence of new technologies. But security risks are nothing new. They have always existed in the corporate world. Take corporate espionage, for example. This type of espionage refers to the act of investigating competitors to gain a business advantage.
Robert explains, “This woman only hired actors because we could create characters, we could do accents, we could do voices, and we would get people on the phone at major companies to tell us things that they should never ever tell us.
And you could imagine, I always use like the football analogy, if you could get the playbook on your competitor a couple of days before the big game and you knew every play they were going to run, every formation, all of that stuff, that’s what corporations want to know about their rivals.”
Humans are the weakest links in cybersecurity. Despite popular belief, technology is not the biggest cybersecurity risk. The human factor is actually the weakest link. If you want to stay ahead of the curve, you need to give your employees the resources and the knowledge to protect themselves and your company’s data.
Robert says, “There is a lot of technology. We all get the texts phishing and the email phishing, and all of that stuff, but I’m here to tell you that in a strange sort of way, again, it goes to the human connection. If you can get a human being on the phone, and I have all these tricks to get you to answer your phone. […] And so when you pick up, all of a sudden, now there’s this human connection, and what you do is you develop a relationship that people like you that they want to help you. And so now you’ve got somebody on the phone who’s willing to do anything and everything.”
Train your employees on cybersecurity. If you want to secure your company and protect yourself from cyber attacks, you need to invest in your employees’ training. Employees are fallible, and they can make mistakes, so it’s important to train them on cybersecurity.
Robert explains, “There is something that’s going on with corporations, which is the part of the problem is that the chief information officer, the chief compliance officers, the information security departments are spending a tremendous amount of time, money and effort, developing systems, developing firewalls, developing encryption, all of these very important things. And they spend a minuscule fraction of that time, effort, and money on training the individuals at their firm not to fall victim to rusing, phishing, all of the different hacking scams, whether it’s hacking a system, or what I do, hacking people.”
Urgency is a red flag. Just like all other security risks, corporate espionage can severely harm your company. So it’s vital to learn to detect possible security threats and risks. According to Robert, there are many ways to protect your business. For instance, be wary of urgent requests and time pressure.
He explains, “The number one red flag is time pressure. Whenever you see something, whether it’s a phone call, whether it’s a text, whether it’s an email, where there’s this, oh my god, you’re in trouble. You’re screwed. You better do this right now. You better fix this right now. You better click on this right now. You better call me right now, whatever it is, you got to take your time. I always say to put the device down, step away from the computer because the temptation is to panic. […] That panic is the thing that creates the problem.”
“We all know the Russians spy on the Chinese, and the Chinese spy on us. But most people have no idea that major corporations are spending hundreds of millions of dollars a year to spy on each other. And that’s the crazy career that I stumbled into.”
“There was always adrenaline, there was just adrenaline pumping, your heart was pumping, and then at the end of a call, if you got the intel that the client had wanted, you were just fired up. It was like a real high, it was like a drug.”
“All firms rank their employees, they have a ranking system, sometimes it’s based on the salary, but oftentimes there’s an internal metric where they’re ranking their employees, and we would learn what these ranking systems were, which then was incredibly valuable because then my clients could learn who the rockstars were at their competitors, and they could steal them away.”
“When we first started doing the job, that’s kind of what it was called. We were rusing, we were calling people, making up names, making up stories. A ruse is a trick, a scam, and so we were rusing, and I always liked; as I started to write the book and think about the title, I just always liked the title ruse; it’s a word that we kind of know what it means, but it’s a word that’s not used that often so it’s kind of fresh. And I think it’s intriguing. Ruse, what is a ruse, what is this book about? So that’s how the title came about.”
“People really want to go behind the scenes of corporate America. We see it in shows like Billions and Succession. There’s another show, Industry, and nobody has done a series about corporate spying, so I think it’s got potential.”