Challenges that may arise in protecting trade secrets against security threats when using videoconferencing apps

The Coronavirus pandemic has generated unexpected effects in the business world, including a particular concern about information security issues, since these types of problems can have an immeasurable impact on the intellectual property area of institutions, mainly when the company’s core assets include trade secrets.

With the rapid spread of the virus and consequent sudden isolation measures imposed by governments, several organizations were taken by surprise when they saw the need to instantly implement the home-based work for their employees.

Because home-office work is done outside of the traditional corporate environment, with the use of telematics associated with information technology criteria, many issues related to the digital world deserve special attention, primarily regarding data protection and information confidentiality. These issues concern many companies that may not have properly established information protection systems and confidentiality policies.

The switch to the home-based work caused by the rigorous quarantine measures imposed by the pandemic has increased exponentially the demands for corporate videoconferences and, as a result, organizations have used many of the videoconferencing tools available on the market to hold virtual meetings. This change has allowed contact between employees to maintain effective, although they are physically distant. However, the use of these digital platforms has raised an important security issue since they have given employees the means to remotely access and share important company data.

In this scenario, it is crucial that companies are aware of the security of digital platforms and verify their confidentiality terms. Equally important is to ensure that their information security policies are clear and well defined for all their employees, even though doubts regarding these digital security matters may eventually arise.

Managing a company’s intellectual property protection system, in general, is very delicate when it comes to sensitive information and data protection, and even more so when it comes to trade secrets.

Any confidential business information that provides a competitive advantage to the company can be considered a trade secret.

Unlike other types of intellectual property, trade secrets are protected without registration, consequently, its protection is based on the rules that repress acts of unfair competition.

The Brazilian Industrial Property Law considers a crime of unfair competition the disclosure, exploitation or misuse of confidential knowledge, information or data, usable in industry, commerce or services provision, excluding those that are public knowledge, by those who had access to such information through contractual or employment relationship. The same Law also provides for as a crime the disclosure, exploitation or use of such data by the one who obtained it by unlawful means or fraudulently.

Consequently, maintaining the secrecy of a trade secret is extremely important because it is precisely the confidential character of this type of protection that is essentially required. In addition, the holders of this type of (secret) information have an obligation to take reasonable precautions to keep it confidential.

Therefore, the leak of a trade secret can result in a huge loss to the company.

Therefore, choosing the ideal platform for conducting videoconferences – where confidential information is often exchanged – requires companies a special care, considering the potential vulnerability of some of these platforms, especially as some of them have revealed troublesome flaws in their privacy and information security systems.

A recent case was widely reported in the news involving one of the most used applications for this purpose. Flaws in the app’s privacy policy were detected, as well as weaknesses in its encryption system, the possibility of hackers’ undue access to the device’s cameras and microphones, and even unauthorized intrusions of individuals to these meetings.

Given the possibility of these security breaches, it is essential that companies looking to protect their trade secrets be even more cautious when using digital platforms to hold virtual meetings. In such cases, it is recommended that, before adopting a specific software for video calling, these companies make a rigorous analysis of the platform’s security and privacy practices.

In addition, it is important that these organizations have a set of clear and objective rules and guidelines, duly elaborated by experts in the subject, that serve as guidance to their employees regarding the standards of behavior related to information security, especially with regard to the company’s trade secrets.

Adopting such measures may be a fundamental factor to demonstrate that the employer has taken the necessary care to keep confidential information regarding his trade secrets, in eventual cases of information leakage.

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