Plunged deep into the digital age, we spin out and store our most precious creations on those flickering screens. To guard them, we mount ever higher walls against predatory cyber-criminals. Meanwhile, a silent army of thieves lays plans to break in and take your IP the old fashioned way.

To guide in guarding against all avenues of invasion, the Global Trade Academy will present “Collateral Benefits of the Customs-Trade Partnership Against Terrorism — Reducing the Risk of Trade Secrets Theft,” a webinar, on Tuesday, December 20, at 1 p.m. Cost: $150. Register at www.learnatgta.com. Suzanne Richer, president and CEO of Customs & Trade Solutions Inc., 66 Witherspoon Street, acts as instructor and facilitator.

Richer’s prudent nature has come from years of front-line experience. She grew up in the Detroit suburb of Royal Oaks with two educator parents. “They taught me the value of breaking information into bite-size, logical steps,” she says. After obtaining her economics bachelor’s from the University of Michigan in 1984, Richer served for seven years as customs broker in the tough port of Detroit.

Richer made sure that her shippers’ goods moved seamlessly through the port to their destinations. Achieving this meant she had to aggressively push manifests past reluctant customs agents and know every new regulation — and its loophole. She had to act as expert negotiator, trainer of shippers on the fly, and make obstinate truck drivers see it her way. All the while, Richer felt the ticking clock, knowing that every hour of goods standing still is money lost.

After earning her master’s in economics from East Michigan University Richer handled the supply chain in Osaka, Japan. “It opened me to an entirely new way of doing business and to differing styles of management,” she says. Returning to the U.S., Richer founded her own international trade consulting firm, Customs Trade Solutions Inc., which she has operated for the last 13 years.

“I kept finding myself going over and over the same things to so many clients, that 10 years ago, I actually began putting it into manuals,” she says. Thus was born the Global Trade Academy, in which Richer and her team now provide online and in-person trade-enabling courses in 19 countries.

“Preventing theft of your trade secrets doesn’t require any great paranoia or expense,” says Richer. “It’s more a matter of setting in place some logical practices.”

#b#Open backdoor policies#/b#. Most offices have formidably tightened security up front. Gone are the days when anyone could just stroll on up to the fifth floor. Receptionists have been replaced by guards who log visitors in and out. Some even control elevator access via a guard-operated swipe key. So who needs the front door?

Veteran Associated Press reporter Richard Seares once revealed his get-the-interview trade secret to me. “Just show up at the back loading docks in coveralls with a clipboard, and a pencil behind your ear,” he said. It presented that perfect blend of being all business, and under-the-radar blue collar; and it’s worked more times than I’ll ever reveal.”

But beyond the costume is the locale. “Most companies still keep their loading platforms totally open. It’s convenient for truckers and workers,” says Richer. So a quick walk around back, and a fast line of patter can place an intruder anywhere he seeks to go. The clever invader who selects the right Trojan horse may find building employees only too happy to direct him. A caterer bearing a food tray or cart will instantly be pointed into the cafeteria.

But no one gets such a free run of a building and the company books as the unannounced auditor. “Thank heaven,” says the relieved CFO collapsing into his wing chair. “That auditor has finally left and given us a glowing bill of health.”

But before popping the celebratory champagne, has anyone checked the footprints to see where this auditor has been poking? Does anybody remember receiving confirmation from this auditor’s firm? And doesn’t it seem a bit odd that he spent more time with the crew in R&D (and their records), than in the finance department?

#b#Unleashing the watchdogs#/b#. Security leaks abound in almost every plant and the surest, thriftiest way to find and plug them is to call in teams from the Customs-Trade Partnership Against Terrorism (C-TPAT). Launched in November, 2001, C-TPAT is a voluntary supply-chain initiative that offers its 10,000-plus participating companies free security inspections, reduced border time, and at least four times fewer port entry/exit inspections. Visit www.C-TPAT.org.

#b#Develop different color-coded visitors’ badges#/b#. Hopefully, every visitor to your company’s premises is given a visitor’s badge. (If you make them more like souvenirs than suspected perpetrator branding, they’ll more likely be worn. It’s just better PR to pass out a badge saying “Thank you for being our guest at Acme Widget Inc. today”).

The badge indicates that the visitor has been duly noted and any required screening has been completed. By color-coding these badges, any staff member may tell at a glance if this visitor is within his prescribed area. And if not, each employee knows the security control procedures.

#b#Confidentiality statements#/b#. Known vendors who by necessity have repeated access to company materials should sign confidentiality agreements. Most are happy to do it if asked.

Service vendors, such as the after-hours cleaning staff, should also sign confidentially agreements, which should provide penalties for both the contracted company and any individuals it hires. “Companies hiring such services routinely focus on the price, level of service, and means of handling failure,” says Richer. “They seldom think to check if the vendor is bonded.”

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