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Have You Noticed How Trade Secrets Thieves Are Circumventing Their Employer’s Computer Monitoring System…Lately?

In an effort to circumvent their employer’s computer network monitoring system, trade secrets thieves sometimes–simply–pull up the proprietary information onto their computer screen and take photographs of the screen.


Apple Case:

I first noticed this in the recent Apple trade secrets theft indictments I wrote about in my previous post titled, “Another Apple Employee-Enroute to China – Arrested – Trade Secrets Theft”

Here are a few quotes from the Apple criminal complaint:

“…hundreds of files on Chen’s personally-owned computer were photographs of computer screens.”

“…taking a photograph of the computer screen with Apple’s information would circumvent Apple’s internal monitoring of activity on its network.”

“…When Apple’s investigation team went through Chen’s personally-owned phone, with Chen present, they discovered that it had about 100 photographs taken within the interior of Apple’s building…”

Coca-Cola Case:

I have now come across it again in the recent Coca-Cola trade secrets theft case

Here are a few quotes from the Coca-Cola criminal complaint:

“…opened files containing TSI [Trade Secrets Information] on a computer and took photographs of those TSI files while they were open on the computer screen to bypass Employer #1’s security measures.”

“…took photos of Employer #2 laboratory equipment located in secure and restricted Employer #2 laboratories…”


It’s not rocket science (pun intended) but it works.


So, there’s a number of IP protection strategies that could be implemented to prevent or at least substantially minimize risk to similar thefts, but a basic one (frequently raised by IP protection specialists) applies here:

Strategic CCTV Installation and Vigorous Monitoring

If a company is not going to prevent personal electronic devices (iPhones, iPads, zip drives, etc.) from being carried into their secure research areas, then the company needs to devise a strategic CCTV program to monitor the behavior of employees in an effort to identify bad actors attempting to record their trade secrets (i.e., photographs, video, or audio.)


In the Apple case, another employee observed the accused taking photographs of his screen which was the catalyst for an investigation and eventual indictment.

In the Coca-Cola case, we don’t know (from the filed criminal complaint) if anybody noticed the accused photographing her computer screen or if CCTV captured it and, as a result, the company protection team initiated the investigation which led to FBI involvement and the subsequent indictment.

But, in another notable trade secrets case (I wrote about in October last year titled, “Composition of a Trade Secrets Theft Enterprise – Case Study – Part 5 of 5”) involving the pharmaceutical giant GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) another employee overheard one of several conspiring trade secrets thieves bragging about the benefits of her criminal enterprise.


The point is that it is rare to come across trade secrets criminal prosecutions that originate from a company’s monitoring and protection procedures.

These major trade secrets theft cases often start when somebody just happens to notice something suspicious. As important as that is, the protection of a company’s trade secrets cannot depend on just that.

What’s needed is the implementation of robust trade secrets protection procedures to prevent the theft, and if a theft occurs, to uncover it and immediately act to recover it.


Companies, by necessity, need to accept the times we live in and the bad actors out there who will go to extreme lengths to steal their “trade secrets.” Just as we all—in this age of terrorism—have learned to live with exhaustive airport screening to minimize the chance of being attacked, similarly, in this exponentially growing age of IP theft, companies need to accept the critical need to raise the “trade secrets protection mindfulness” of its employees and implement vigorous IP physical and concrete protection procedures.


In our next post, we will discuss China’s “Thousand Talents Rewards Program” which was specifically raised in the Coca-Cola case.

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Ron Alvarez is an IP investigations and protection consultant and writer in New York City. He is a former NYPD lieutenant where he investigated robbery, narcotics, internal affairs, and fine art theft cases. Ron has since coordinated the private investigation of international fraud and money laundering cases, as well as IP-related investigations and research involving the four pillars of IP: copyright, patents, trademarks, and trade secrets. Ron is a graduate of the FBI National Academy and earned a B.A. in Government and Public Administration from John Jay College of Criminal Justice in Manhattan. He has written a number of articles for various investigative publications, as well as published "The World of Intellectual Property (IP) Protection and Investigations" in November 2021.

1 comment on “Have You Noticed How Trade Secrets Thieves Are Circumventing Their Employer’s Computer Monitoring System…Lately?

  1. Pingback: Is the Chinese-Government Sanctioned “Thousand Talents Rewards Program” a Vehicle for Trade Secrets Thieves? – IP PI BLOG

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