Secrets are Secret, unless you work in the UK Cabinet Office

By now you have heard of the secret intelligence files left on a commuter train in England.

Keith Vaz MP, chairman of the powerful Home Affairs select committee told the BBC: “Such confidential documents should be locked away…they should not be read on trains.”

This should be a reminder to the private sector regarding trade secrets.

Trade Secrets

A trade secret is not protected by a Patent, Trademark, or Industrial Design. A trade secret is confidential and proprietary information that you protect because of its commercial value and the competitive advantage that it produces for your company.

Competitive Intelligence

Exposing a trade secret in public by working on a critical document on an airplane, leaving a trade secret on a commuter train, or exposing it in an proposal, may eliminate the confidential nature of the data, and once you do that, you have, by definition, given up protecting it, therefore, it is not a trade secret that you can claim as proprietary — your former trade secret moves into the public domain for all to see and use.

As a competitive intelligence practitioner, I often find former trade secrets loose in the public domain due to irresponsible security practices. If the owner does not protect the trade secret, it ceases to be confidential and proprietary data, and is likely to become somebody else’s competitive advantage, or worse still, it might become a standard practice for an entire industry.

4 thoughts on “Secrets are Secret, unless you work in the UK Cabinet Office

  1. Dear Richard,

    I have come to understand that the prime risks associated with Information Security of an organisation can be broadly put into the following categories – Technology, Process, Physical Security & People.

    Although various measures of Info security can be taken to minimise the risks in the first three categories, how can the risk associated with personnel be handled? Trade secrets in organisation rest in the brains of its people and attrition poses a serious possible breach in security. Neither can intelligence be compartmentalised in organisations as it would definitely affect the quality of functioning.
    Would like to know your views on that
    Thanks & Regards

  2. Best way to understand security is to be around the most
    scumiest of people on earth and to understand that you yourself are capable of perpertrating the most hideous of acts.

    You won’t learn business security through training courses or through information security books.

    You just won’t ever be “security competitive” that way.

  3. Vinay:

    To have a perfect system is impossible; to have a system is indispensable.
    C.K. Chesterton
    The Napoleon of Notting Hill

    The people issue must be approached from several angles. The first is the hiring of reliable people. The next is having all employees and contractors sign nondisclosure and noncompete agreements. Awareness campaigns regarding security must run constantly. Document security must be an ever-present part of the work environment. Finally, enforcement of confidentiality must be swift, publicized, and severe.

  4. Richard:

    I agree in that hiring of reliable people would be the best option but it is quite hard to find and retain reliable people. We have non-disclosure and non-compete agreements but how far it can be legally implemented is still a question of doubt. All secure details like client information, financial information with mention of client could be witheld from the individual analyst. This makes the process more complicated and strenous.

    Enforcement of confidentiality is possible within the organisation but once the employee leaves it is pretty much restricted.

    But then again, secrets have been maintained in kingdoms, nations, intelligence organisations for ages and although information leaks have also occurred I feel it has been handled properly throughout ages.That could give a little hope in this age of information-explosion.

    Thank you for your insight,


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