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Thursday, December 07, 2006

Espionage alert to Bahrain firms

Daily News: INDUSTRIAL espionage and organised crime are the biggest threats facing companies in Bahrain and the Middle East, a former counter-terrorism chief said yesterday.

The global technological era has brought a new series of risks that threaten the survival of all businesses, says Richard Clark, who served as a senior White House adviser for current President George W Bush and his two predecessors.

Corporations are concentrating their efforts on evading terrorism, instead of tackling more immediate dangers, says the veteran, with more than 30 years of experience in the field.

"This global technological era brings with it new risks and requires new ways of looking at security," he told delegates at a conference which opened at the Bahrain International Exhibition Centre yesterday.

"We are in this era dependent on technology. Without technology a company cannot function. Everything we do all day long now depends on technology.

"If one hacker anywhere in the world figures out a vulnerability in a computer programme and he posts it on the Internet, within hours people all over the world are developing the means to exploit that vulnerability.

"If someone figures out how to take ammonium nitrate fertiliser and turn it into a car bomb that information is put on the Internet and soon we see car bombs all around the world."

Mr Clark was speaking at the three-day Asis Middle International Middle East Security conference, being held under the patronage of Prime Minister Shaikh Khalifa bin Salman Al Khalifa.

Asis International, which has 33,000 members worldwide, is dedicated to increasing the effectiveness of security practices through educational programmes, seminars and exhibitions.

Airport security, identity theft, counter terrorism, petroleum and petrochemical industries protection and maritime security will be among the issues discussed at the event.

Nearly 2,000 professions from across the region are taking part in the conference, including corporate executives, architects and law enforcement officers.

They will address industrial security issues that affect individual businesses and have implications for the wider economy of the GCC region.

More than 32 workshops will also be conducted, covering issues such as Al Qaeda and terrorism, kidnapping and personal security, violence in the workplace, business crime and identity theft.

Acts of industrial espionage are becoming easier and are often perpetrated by disgruntled employees aiming to cause damage, or for profit by selling company secrets, said Mr Clark.

"It used to be that to do industrial espionage your competitor had to come to your company and somehow break in and steal your information," he said.

"Today it occurs on a daily basis and most of us don't even know it is occurring in our company.

"It occurs through cyber space, through vulnerabilities in software and goes through firewalls and into our databases.

"It takes our corporate jewels - the formula for pharmaceuticals, the formula for chemicals, the price lists that you use to charge your customers and your list of customers.

"If you work in a company of any significant size you are part of a team that is international and your colleagues come from all across the world.

"You can no longer rely on tribal and family relationships.

"Your trust now in the people you work with and the teams that you create have to come from a different source.

"How can you be sure who they are?"

Mr Clark, an on-air consultant with the US media company ABC News, who has also written a best-selling book about the American war on terror, argues that the threat of international organised crime is often overlooked.

"We used to think of it as a small regional operation," he said.

"Today international criminal cartels operate multi-billion operations and they are as large as some corporations," he said.

"Fuelled by drug money, they invest it and engage in money laundering and that creates unfair competition."

But Mr Clark also says that while modern technology has increased the risks facing companies, it can also be used to fight crime.

"Security is not just the job of the government, it is the job of every corporation," he said.

"Security is affordable, it is not just another cost but a way of increasing profitability."

Mr Clark does not believe Bahrain's position as the financial hub of the Middle East puts it more at risk of being targeted by criminals.

"The thing that Bahrain has going for it is that it is building a massive amount of infrastructure and that means security can be built into its developments, which is harder to put in when they have already been built," he told the GDN.

"This is a real opportunity to increase security at a low cost."
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