With an economy stalled by the pandemic, companies are keeping new products under wraps and waiting for a better time to launch. But the longer new product campaigns are delayed, the more vulnerable they become to having specs leaked to the public. A rigorous investigation can preempt these leaks.
Maintaining secrecy before product launches has always been a challenge, particularly for tech companies keen on glitzy events to unveil the latest gadgetry. Wildly expensive product launches in venues like the Worldwide Developers Conference at the Brooklyn Academy of Music and the South by Southwest festival in Austin were de rigueur. But debuts like these have always been at risk of being undermined: In 2010, an Apple software engineer accidentally left his yet-to-be-released iPhone 4 at a bar in Redwood City, California. A few weeks later, the phone was in the hands of a writer at the tech blog, Gizmodo, who—before the unveiling—published a story with the banner: This is Apple’s Next iPhone.
In addition to absentminded engineers losing prototypes, leaks can happen through other avenues:
The pandemic has compounded the problem. Corporate security teams now wrestle with cybersecurity threats posed by a work-from-home (or live-from-work) reality; bad actor employees have more time to probe security gaps while away from daily supervision; and employees worried about layoffs may justify stealing pre-release products as an “insurance policy” of sorts.
While leaks are sometimes sanctioned by the company to whet consumer appetites, those done by outsiders can be extremely damaging. In a worst-case scenario, a sophisticated counterfeiter or competitor might reverse-engineer knockoffs before the genuine products reach the market. For example, luxury brands know that criminal syndicates in Southeast Asia can make copies based on digital photos mere hours after fashion models strut the catwalks. While informed consumers of luxury products won’t buy these knockoffs, brands lose the cachet of exclusivity when cheap copies land on e-commerce sites well before fashionistas can splurge at designer shops.
Savvy investigators can identify the details of pre-launch product thefts using interviews, computer forensics, and reviews of security systems. Controlled purchases of leaked samples can also help to identify breach sources. Another critical step, given that many of the fakes appear on e-commerce sites, is tracking counterfeiters via social media mapping and dark web research. Savvy companies look to investigators for theft prevention measures, including due diligence, cybersecurity reviews, and intelligence-gathering to identify potential offenders.
Measures that should be considered when mitigating the risk of pre-launch theft include:
Despite the pandemic, companies should not surrender their ability to introduce new creations to the market at a time and place of their own choosing. An investment in intellectual property security background investigations, intelligence gathering, and the ability to activate a rapid-response investigation in the event of a leak can go a long way towards keeping the decision to launch a new product squarely in the hands of its owner.